Grahamstown Theatrical Amateur Company

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The Grahamstown Theatrical Amateur Company (originally written as the Graham's Town Theatrical Amateur Company) was an English-language amateur dramatic society founded in Grahamstown on 23 May 1837.

It may be the predecessor of what is later referred to as Graham's Town Dramatic Club

The Grahamstown Theatrical Amateur Company (1837-1850)

The company existed in Grahamstown till 1850. It used the motto Consacre a la Bienfaisance, Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense (= "Dedicated to charity, Evil to him who evil thinks").

Based at the Commercial Hall between 1837 and 1848, the company was at one stage so popular that the construction of its own theatre was considered in 1841. However, After financial setbacks, the Theatre Royal at Styles' Hotel, New Street became the company's headquarters from 1848 till 1850. Having briefly joined forces with the Victoria Circus in 1849, the Company resumed work on their own again in 1850. War from 1850-1853 halted further theatrical activity. Frederick Timpson l'Ons, a well known artiist, designed and painted scenery for the company's productions in both venues.

Their first performance was Sheridan's The Rivals (Sheridan) and the burlesque Bombastes Furioso by William Barnes Rhodes, Dec 1837. Most famously, the skit Kaatjie Kekkelbek (Bain and Rex) was put on in 1838, which saw the first use of what is generally considered an early form of the Afrikaans language on stage. Laidler also mentions a few other plays done in 1838 (e.g. The Castle Spectre, or The Ghost of Evelina, Chronomoholonthologus, The Spectre Bridegroom, The Midnight Hour, Love Laughs at Locksmiths, Fortune's Frolic), though Bosman (1928: pp. 388-390), who often finds Laidler unreliable, suggests that he may be conflating performances in Cape Town with those in Grahamstown. Yet he does also add that the theatre in Grahamstown at the time did seem to reflect theatrical activities in Cape Town. This may be because the company no doubt collaborated with the amateurs of the local garrison and a number of visiting artists over the years, as did the later Graham's Town Dramatic Club.

More certain seem to be some performances in 1839, which saw them doing pieces like The Innkeeper of Abbeville and Love, Law and Physic, as well as hosting "Mechanical and Picturesque Theatre of Arts" (most probably a presentation by the magician and puppeteer W.F.H. Parker and Mr Parker's Theatre of Mechanics) in the Commercial Hall Grahamstown in December.


The Graham's Town Dramatic Club (1864-)

It appears that for a while (the 1850s and early 1860s) a strong anti-theatrical prejudice (or "Anti-Thespian" movement) existed in Grahamstown (often referred to as "the city of saints"), and that the town was generally avoided by touring companies. For example, Bosman (1980, p. 138) records that Sefton Parry was advised to avoid the town, and did so initially in 1862, preferring to go to Natal with his company. However, he eventually relented, and did a short season in the town (from the end of December 1862 till January 1863), apparently feeling the prejudice, since a critic cited by Bosman (1980, p. 117) states that "Mr Parry's performances are much approved by the press but not much patronized by the public". However, his timing had also been rather bad, it being the summer vacation and "all of Grahamstown has gone to the sea in a bullock-wagon", so he cut short his season in January of 1864.

However, according to F.C.L. Bosman (1980, p. 138), this visit may have had a longer term effect, despite the attitude of the public, for a Graham's Town Dramatic Club was founded in April of 1864 and soon after Mrs Tellett and her company joined the new club to make her debut in the town on 29 August 1864.



F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [1]: pp. 388-390.

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 116-7, 138

P.J. du Toit. 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

William Groom. 1899-1900. Drama in Cape Town. Cape Illustrated Magazine, 10(4): 478-481, 517-520, 547-552, 580-584, 640-643, 670-672, 706-708.

P.R. Kirby 1962. Frederick Timpson I’Ons and the first sixteen years of the theatre in Grahamstown. Africana Notes & News, 15:66-83.

P.W. Laidler. 1926. The Annals of the Cape Stage. Edinburgh: William Bryce: p.44.

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