Being edited (October 2019)
Pieter Toerien was, for 40 years, South Africa’s foremost theatre impresario. Toerien began his theatre career while still at school presenting puppet shows to schools in his home town, Cape Town. His first venture after school aged 17 introduced the concept of bio-vaudeville – persuading cinema managements to have live entertainment before the feature film. Under the mentorship of Britain’s theatre agent Herbert de Leon and in partnership with Basil Rubin he brought to South Africa British variety artists such as Alma Cogan and Dickie Valentine; eventually adding Russ Conway (1964), Peter Nero (1966), Shelly Berman, Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin, Françoise Hardy and Maurice Chevalier (1967) to his list of luminaries.
His greatest coup was Marlene Dietrich. Aged 20 he sat on the street outside her apartment until curiosity compelled her to invite him in. He signed her to tour in 1965 and again in 1966. They remained friends until her death in 1992 aged 91.
In 1966 he tentatively shifted to the dramatic stage, often bringing entire productions from the West End to South Africa, cast, sets and costumes. Funding all his own productions he famously claimed that he produced farce and comedy to subsidize less commercial theatre. Continuing with the successful business formula of signing overseas box-office attractions he brought names like Hermione Gingold from New York for Noel Coward’s Fallen Angles, Joan Fontaine for Fredrick Knott’s thriller Dial M for Murder. Other names included Barbara Windsor, June Whitfield and Sir Michael Redgrave.
With rigid censorship laws in South Africa in the 70s and 80s, plays were continually under scrutiny by the law. Ronald Millar’s Abelard and Heloise called for a nude scene and actress Heather Lloyd-Jones consented to the demands of the script. Audience curiosity filled houses to capacity. The censorship board were given a dim silhouette of Miss Lloyd-Jones and the play was allowed to continue. Toerien did not escape more aggressive raids when productions were closed down.
When the word ‘gay’ was still taboo Toerien brought The Other Side of the Swamp to the boards. Writer Royce Ryton himself played opposite Echardt Rabe under Graham Armtage’s direction. By running for a year this production broke a South African record.
Writers Ben Travis, Ray Clooney and Alan Eichbourne became audience favourites; as did Agatha Christie. From the early 80s, British comedy actor and director Rex Garner became associated with Toerien with many box office successes; Ray Clooney's Out of Order and It Runs in the Famiy, Michael Pertwee's Birds of Paradise and Robin Hawdon's Don't Dress for Dinner.
Lining the walls of Toerien’s theatres are photographs of the innumerable actors who have worked for him over the years as well as posters of past productions Sleuth, A Streetcar Named Desire, Equus, Amadeus, Agnes of God, M Butterfly, Master Class, Private Lives, Stage Struck, Quartemaine's Terms, Side By Side With Sondheim The works of such imminent British writers as Noel Coward, Tom Stoppard, Simon Gray, and Peter Shaffer have all been mounted in Toerien’s theatres. In the 80s Toerien brought Sir Cameron Macintosh’s Tomfoolery to South Africa. This association has resulted in South Africa receiving many of the phenomenal successes of Macintosh's London musical theatre, Les Miserables, a co-production with Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Tsogo Sun; Cats which toured Scandinavia, the Far East and Beirut; The Phantom of the Opera which toured the Far East, ending in Hong Kong. These were followed by The Sleeping Beauty on Ice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar which was originally banned in South Africa as blasphemous after it opened on Broadway in 1971.
He always claimed that he did not need state subsidy, he subsidised himself. This was largely done by doing many popular potboilers (drawing room comedies and murder mysteries), and this enabled him to do more literary West End and Broadway successes, such as Equus and M. Butterfly.
Toerien has not limited himself to theatre management. During the period of South Africa’s transition he worked extensively with WESTAG Task Group on the Performing Arts sub-committee. In this area of civic responsibility he also gave of his expertise on the CAPAB board to assist them in their adjustment to become Artscape. He was also on the board of the National Arts Council and the Western Cape Cultural Commission.
The theatres he managed and owned over the years include the Intimate Theatre, the Alhambra Theatre (Johannesburg), the André Huguenet Theatre (Johannesburg), the Theatre on the Bay (Cape Town), the Montecasino Theatre (Johannesburg).
He renovated the Alhambra Theatre in 1991, adding on a third, hundred-seater, auditorium called the Richard Haines Theatre. It opened on 27 September 1991 with A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters. During this time he relinquished his lease on the André Huguenet Theatre.
Since the 70s he has always owned his own theatres. The first, The Intimate, a 235 seater, in partnership with Shirley Firth, was followed by The Barnato and the Andre Huguenet . In 1980 he saved an old theatre from demolition and opened The Alahambra in Braamfontein, Johannesburg with Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Refurbishing the old building he added two more theatres to the complex, the Leonard Rayne Theatre, opened 18th July 1983, (renamed the Rex Garner in 1994) and the Richard Haines Theatres. In 1988 he purchased the derelict Alvin Cinema in Camps Bay, Cape Town and, with designer Jan Corewyn transformed it with a post modern façade draped with a sculptured curtain. He named it Theatre on the Bay.It opened in mid December 1988 with a production of Nunsense. With the decentralization of Johannesburg’s CBD Toerien moved his Alhambra operation to the north of Johannesburg opening Pieter Toerien's Montecasino Theatre complex. Here he runs 2 theatres, one with 320 seats and a studio theatre with 160 seats ]
2007 saw the staging of The Lion King in a splendid new 1900 seater lyric theatre being especially built by Tsogo Sun at Montecasino in Johannesburg. It would be the tenth largest in the world.
Toerien's theatrical partnerships
Over the years, Toerien has collaborated with many other impressarios, producers and companies, and has a had a number of business partners for shorter or longer periods of time. Among them:
With his former boss, cinema owner Basil Rubin, he formed Toerien-Rubin and together they staged many variety shows, topped by visiting British artists such as vocalist Alma Cogan and Dickie Valentine, booked by Hugo Keleti. Toerien-Rubin brought out the English comedians Dora Bryan and Alfred Marks in 1964.
He formed Toerien-Rubin and staged many variety shows topped by visiting British artists such as vocalist Alma Cogan and Dickie Valentine, booked by Hugo Keleti. Toerien-Rubin brought out the English comedians Dora Bryan and Alfred Marks in 1964. Together with Basil Rubin he staged James Ambrose-Brown’s The Years of the Locust at the Alexander Theatre, starring Johann Nell, Frank Shelley and Yvonne Bryceland in 1966.
Together with Rubin he brought Russ Conway back to the Civic Theatre in 1967. Together with Rubin he brought Hollywood dancer-actress Cyd Charisse and her husband, Tony Martin to the Civic in August 1967. Together with Rubin he presented Aleksei Arbuzov’s The Promise, starring English actor Andrew Ray, John Fraser and British actress Olive McFarland  at the Brooke in 1967. It was directed by Leonard Schach. Toerien-Rubin also staged the revue Maggie and Frank, starring Maggie Soboil and Frank Lazarus, at the Brooke in 1967. Together with Rubin he started importing complete productions from the West End, starting with Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, starring Richard Todd, Jean Kent, Vanessa Lee, Peter Graves, Derek Bond and Joyce Grant in 1969. They also brought Dames at Sea to the Alexander from America, directed by Don Liberto and Jimmy Edwards’ London hit Big Bad Mouse, starring Cardew Robinson and Bess Finney circa 1969.
Toerien-Rubin staged Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels at the Alexander circa 1970. It starred Hermione Gingold and Joan Heal. Toerien-Rubin brought director Anthony Sharp and actors Cicely Courtneidge, Jack Hulbert, Roger Livesey, Ursula Jeans, David Kossoff and Robertson Hare from London to star in Oh, Clarence at the Civic circa 1970
Together with Shirley Firth, and Rubin he stepped forward as new management of the Intimate in 1969. Their first co-production was The Secretary Bird which was directed by Kerry Jordan and starred Jeremy Hawk, Shelagh Holliday, Ivan Berold and Firth.
He staged Rattigan’s In Praise of Love starring Robert Flemyng, together with Shirley Firth in 1974. Toerien-Firth presented Who Killed Santa Claus? starring John Justin and Naomi Chance, with direction by Anthony Sharp in 1971. They also staged Don’t Start Without Me, directed by Roger Redfarn and starring Jeremy Hawk; and No sex Please, We’re British, directed by Allen Davis and starring Billy Boyle in 1971. He staged Ronald Millar’s Abelard and Helöise, starring Heather Lloyd-Jones, Paul Massie, Margaretta Scott and Mervyn Johns at the Civic in 1971. Toerien-Firth presented Wait Until Dark starring Shirley Anne Field at the Intimate in 1972. He presented Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder, starring [[John Gregson[[ and Joan Fontaine and directed by Philip Grout in 1972. Toerien-Firth presented the Francis Durbridge thriller Suddenly at Home and Royce Ryton’s Crown Matrimonial at the Intimate in 1973. The latter starred Owen Holder and Peggy Thorpe-Bates. They also brought Libby Morris to star in Just Libby in December 1973. Toerien-Firth brought Muriel Pavlow, Robert Flemyng, Robert Beatty and Ron Smerczak to star at the Intimate in Terence Rattigan’s In Praise of Love in 1974. They also got John Fernald to direct Hildegard Neil in a revival of Private Lives, and Heather Lloyd-Jones to star in Jerome Chodorov’s A Community of Two, directed by Chodorov at the Intimate in 1974. Toerien-Firth brought Maxine Audley and Richard Huggett with director Laurier Lister from England for Not Bloody Likely at the Intimate and Jeremy Hawk and Elspeth March from England for The Payoff at the Intimate in 1975. Toerien-Firth revived Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire with Michael McGovern and Anne Rogers in 1975. In 1976 Toerien-Firth brought back Owen Holder to star in Royce Ryton’s For the Woman I love; They took a lease on the Little Theatre and renamed it the Barnato Theatre, after mining magnate Barney Barnato. Their opening production Caught in the Act, devised and directed by England’s Charles Ross with Anna Quayle and Graham Armitage was staged in 1976. Royce Ryton’s The Other Side of the Swamp starring Royce Ryton himself, together with Eckard Rabe under direction by Graham Armitage was staged at the Barnato in 1976. It ran for a year. Toerien-Firth staged William Douglas Home’s The Kingfisher at the Intimate in 1977. They also staged The Monkey Walk starring Barbara Kinghorn and British actor Richard Warwick, later replaced by Paul Jericco at the Barnato in 1977. Toerien-Firth presented Anthony Marriott and John Chapmans’s Shut Your Eyes and Think of England, directed by Roger Redfarn and starring Peter Blythe (later replaced by Simon Merrick). It ran at the Intimate from 1978 to January 1979. Together with Shirley Firth he presented Terence Rattigan’s Cause Célèbre, directed by Joan Kemp-Welch and starring Mary Millar and William Lucas in 1978. It ran at the Andre Huguenet for nine months. Toerien-Firth staged Royce Ryton’s The Unvarnished Truth with Michael Richard, Anthony Fridjhon, Nicholas Ellenbogen and Lynne White and directed by Joan Kemp-Welch at the Intimate in 1979. Toerien-Firth presented Sextet by Michael Pertwee at the Andre Huguenet in 1979. Toerien-Firth produced Mothers and Fathers with Clive Parnell, Lesley Nott, Elizabeth Rae and Ian Winter which was staged at the Barnato Theatre in 1980. Together with Firth he staged Hugh Leonard’s A Life directed by Godfrey Quigley and starring Quigley and Margaret Inglis at the Brooke, Mark Camelotti’s Happy Birthday starring Clive Scott at the Intimate, and Simon Gray’s Stage Struck directed by Stephen Hollis and starring Michael McGovern and Kenneth Baker in 1980. Toerien-Firth staged their last joint production at the Intimate in 1982 namely the Baxter Theatre production of Robert Kirby’s It's a Boy! starring Dale Cutts, Bo Petersen and James Irwin and directed by Keith Grenville.
Some of his many productions over the years include Jack Popplewell’s Darling, I’m Home starring Ian Carmichael and Diane Todd, and A Touch of Spring starring Leonard Whiting and directed by Philip Grout, at the Civic Theatre in 1972. He brought Kenneth Connor to star in My Fat Friend at the Civic Theatre in 1973 and presented a compilation of Noël Coward’s material, Cowardy Custard, starring Moira Lister, David Kernan and Graham Armitage and directed by Freddie Carpenter at the Civic Theatre that same year.
After the political change, he grasped the opportunity of bringing the formerly banned big musicals to South Africa. These include Les Misrablés (with Cameron Mackintosh, 19**), The Phantom of the Opera (19**), ***.
He brought Nigel Patrick to star in Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus which was directed by Kim Grant at the Civic in 1974. David Poulson directed Not in the Book with Wilfrid Hyde-White and Avril Angers for Toerien at the Civic in 1974 He staged Peter Shaffer’s Equus which was directed by Leonard Schach starring British actors John Fraser and Dai Bradley together with Anne Courtneidge, Kim Braden, Fiona Fraser and Michael Howard at the Civic in 1975. He also presented Barbara Windsor in Carry on Barbara, Terry Scott and June Whitfield in A Bed Full of Foreigners and an ensemble of British actors, led by Sir Michael Redgrave who brought Shakespeare’s People, put together by Sir Michael Redgrave to the Civic in 1975. He brought out Leonard Whiting again in 1976 to star in the Ben Travers farce, The Bed Before Yesterday, together with Jean Kent, Marjorie Gordon, Naomi Buch, Graham Armitage and Gordon Mulholland. Hywel Bennett starred in Simon Gray’s Otherwise Engaged together with Sandra Duncan; West End director Frith Banbury staged a revival of Frederick Lonsdale’s 1920s comedy On Approval, starring Richard Todd and Moyra Fraser.
He presented Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen starring Richard Warwick, Charles Hawtrey, Peter Bowles, Naomi Buch and Ron Smerczak at the Civic Theatre in 1977. He staged The Deep Blue Sea, directed by Joan Kemp-Welch and starring Helen Cherry and James Faulkner at the Baxter Theatre in 1977. It was set to be the opening production at his new Johannesburg theatre, the Andre Huguenet in Hillbrow. He staged the American mini-musical Starting Here, Starting Now, directed by John Montgomery and starring Andre Hattingh, Denise Freeman and Richard Loring at the Intimate Theatre in 1978. He staged James Kirkwood’s P.S. Your Cat is Dead, directed by Dennis Breto with John Fraser and Anthony Daniels in 1978. He brought Stockton Briggle to South Africa to direct a season of three plays consisting of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap starring Peter Wyngarde and Raymond O’Neill at the Andre Huguenet; The Passion of Dracula; and Neil Simon’s California Suite, starring Naomi Buch, Annabel Linder, Anthony Fridjhon and Michael Mayer in 1978.
He sponsored a tour of Middle Age Spread with Rex Garner, Helen Jessop and Eric Flynn before it opened at the Andre Huguenet in October 1980. Toerien-Firth staged Andrew Davies’ Rose starring Sandra Duncan at the Intimate in 1980/1981. He staged Agatha Christie’s The Spider’s Web starring Rex Garner, Shelagh Holliday, Paddy Canavan and Kenneth Baker at the Andre Huguenet in 1981. Leslie Phillips starred in Canaries Sometimes Sing for Pieter at the Andre Huguenet in 1981. He purchased the Alhambra Theatre from JODS circa 1981 where he staged Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus starring Richard Haines and Ralph Lawson and directed by Nikolas Simmonds in 1981. Michael Atkinson replaced Richard Haines in a subsequent extended season. He staged Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest starring Yvonne Banning and Eckard Rabe at the Alhambra in January 1982. He then staged John Chapman and Dave Freeman’s Key for Two starring Rex Garner, Gordon Mulholland and Moira Lister at the Alhambra in 1982 before taking it to London. He presented Noël Coward’s Oh Coward, directed by Freddie Carpenter with Richard Loring, Judy Page and Ronnie Stevens at the Andre Huguenet and the Intimate in 1982.
He presented A.R.Gurney Jr’s The Dining Room starring Gordon Mulholland, Amanda Strydom, Ralph Lawson and Patricia Sanders with direction by Bobby Heaney at the Alhambra in 1983. He presented Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero at the Andre Huguenet starring John Watts and directed by Charles Hickman in 1983. He opened a new auditorium at the Alhambra in 1983 called the Leonard Rayne Theatre. The opening production on the 18 July 1983 was Side by Side by Sondheim, a collection of Stephen Sondheim’s pieces starring Dianne Chandler, Andre Hattingh and Eric Flynn, who also directed. He staged Michael Frayn’s Noises Off starring Rex Garner, Joy Stewart Spence, Eckard Rabe, Clare Marshall, Ralph Lawson and Kenneth Baker at the Andre Huguenet in 1983. It returned later that same year for another run.
TOERIEN, Pieter, It's a Boy! Robert Kirby, [[Keith Grenville] (dir). The play was a return visit to the Baxter in 83 which played to packed houses last August during the Baxter 82 season. Then transferred to JHB by Pieter Toerien. Playing at the Academy. Agnes of God, Mass Appeal, the Real Thing, Side by Side By Sondheim, 1983. Clarence Darrow, Grahamstown Festival, 1984.
Producer of Little Shop of Horrors with Cameron Mackintosh in 1984-1985
He presented Agnes of God starring Fiona Ramsay, Pauline Bailey and Lena Ferugia and directed by Nikolas Simmonds at the Baxter in 1983 before moving it to the Alhambra. He got Kim Grant to direct his 1984 Agatha Christie, The Hollow starring Shelagh Holliday at the André Huguenet Theatre in February. He presented Ray Cooney’s Run for Your Wife starring Rex Garner and Michael Richard at the Alhambra in February 1984. He staged Francis Durbridge’s House Guest directed by Hugh Wooldridge in 1984. He presented Mastrosimone’s Extremities starring Lena Ferugia and Michael Richard with direction by Hugh Wooldridge in 1984. In 1985 he presented Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee with Bill Flynn, Michael Frayn’s Benefactors which was directed by Rex Garner, One for the Pot and The Marriage-Go-Round. Michael Richard starred in Kean at the Leonard Rayne in June 1985, and in August of the same year Pieter brought back Equus.
Isn't It Romantic 1985. In 1986 he presented Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage and The Business of Murder. At the André Huguenet Theatre he presented Ray Cooney’s Two into One in 1986. He brought Tom and Viv, directed by Ken Leach to the Alhambra in August 1986. He presented Jerry’s Girls directed by Jimmy Bell and Richard Harris’ Stepping Out at the André Huguenet Theatre in 1986. Rex Garner starred in Canadian playwright Bernard Slade’s Tribute for Pieter in 1987. Outside Edge 1987 and 1990.
He presented Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House and the revue It’s Getting Harder at the Leonard Rayne in 1988. He presented Vladimir Gubartev’s Sarcophagus and Jerome Kilty’s Dear Love at the Andre Huguenet in 1988. He presented Terence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune, Tobie Cronje in Charley’s Aunt and Peter Shaffer’s Lettuce and Lovage (pg 468 spelling different) in 1988. His new theatre called Theatre on the Bay opened in mid December 1988 with a production of Nunsense. He presented Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile, Tom Lehrer’s Tom Foolery and Who Goes Bare at the André Huguenet Theatre in 1989. He presented David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly at the Alhambra in October 1989. He presented Malcolm Terrey and Kevin Feather’s Jo’Burg Follies at the Leonard Rayne in January 1990. Together with NAPAC he brought Ain’t Misbehavin’ to the Andre Huguenet in 1990. He presented Move Over Mrs Markham at the Alhambra in 1990. In conjunction with Plewman Productions he presented Michael Pertwee’s Sextet at the André Huguenet Theatre in 1990. He presented Richard Harris’ The Maintenance Man at the Leonard Rayne in 1990. Deon Opperman and Garth Holmes wrote Playboys for him in 1990. He presented Lend Me a Tenor in 1990. He presented Jo’burg Follies 2 at the Leonard Rayne during the festive season of 1990.
He presented Gordon Mulholland in Gordon Bleu at the Richard Haines in 1992. He presented Michael Pertwee’s Birds of Paradise at the Alhambra in 1992. He presented John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation in 1992. Mark Graham directed I Was King for him at the Richard Haines Theatre in 1992. The Woman in Black (1992-1993). He presented Hugh Whitemore’s The Best of Friends in 1993. He presented Don’t Dress for Dinner in 1993. He presented Rupert Gavin’s An Evening with Gary Lineker at the Alhambra, Edward Duke’s Jeeves Takes Charge and Kevin Feather’s The Doowah Girls, both at the Richard Haines in 1993. He presented James Sherman’s Beau Jest at the Theatre on the Bay, Civic’s Youth Theatre and the Leonard Rayne in 1993. He presented The Monkey Walk at the Richard Haines in 1994. He presented Bob Randall’s The Fan in 1994. He presented Giles Havergal’s Travels With My Aunt at the Leonard Rayne in August 1994. He brought Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Miserables to the Nico Malan in 1996.
Another South African record was set by actor Tim Plewman who in 2006 ended an eight year run of Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman. Plewman, had given 1500 performances of this one man show. In ab interview in 2004 he considered Equus, Amadeus, Nunsense, Defending the Caveman, Cats to be his most successful productions up to then.
In 1988 he received the Fleur du Cap Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the industry.
Theatre programmes and other material held by NELM.
Interview by Lesley Byram published in Cape Times, 1 April 2004.
Return to ESAT Personalities T
Return to South African Theatre Personalities
Return to The ESAT Entries
Return to Main Page