Sefton Parry

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Sefton Parry (1832–1887)[1] was an actor, theatre manager and producer.


Born Sefton Henry Parry in England, the youngest member of a theatrical family. A man of remarkable versatility, who could paint scenery, cut out dresses, and do stage-carpentering, he travelled, with a small company, playing the empire and visiting various parts of the world, including Australia, accompanied by his wife, known professionally as Mrs Sefton Parry, and a young female dancer, picking the rest of the cast from members of local amateur dramatic clubs. During this time he had two periods of extended activity in South Africa.

For more on his British and international career, see the substantial entry in Wikipedia[2]

Life in Cape Town

He first arrived in the Cape in June 1855, ostensibly for a stopover on the way home to England from Australia, where he had been lionised. He quickly constructed a new venue, the Drawing Room Theatre, in the Commercial Rooms and performed his first season of performances in 1855 there. Supported by the Garrison Amateur Company, Parry did not disappoint, receiving a rapturous welcome, which persuaded him to stay at the Cape a little longer. Indeed, he postponed his return to England a number of times and gave some more performances, working with local amateur groups, notably the Cape Town Dramatic Club, but finally left after two months.

He returned in 1857 with a professional British theatre-company (referred to as Parry's Company on occasion), but still using members of local amateur groups (e.g. the Cape Town Dramatic Club) for his larger casts. When he broke away from the Cape Town Dramatic Club in 1860 to form the Alfred Dramatic Club as a professional venture, he effectively established the first regular professional theatre-company in South Africa. (After the success of The Irish Tutor in 1860, visiting Prince Alfred bestowed his name upon them, and henceforth they were known as the Royal Alfred Dramatic Club.) In the same year Parry had the wooden Theatre Royal built in Harrington Street, Cape Town. It opened on 9 August 1860. From 1861 till 1863 Parry and his company utilized its stage. He returned to London in 1863, and the theatre was closed down.

Life after the Cape Town period

Having made some money on his travels, he returned to England and became engaged in the construction of several London theatres, including the first of the new theatres, the Holborn Theatre (opened on 6 October 1866), the Globe Theatre in Newcastle Street, Strand (1868), the Avenue Theatre (1882). and the Greenwich Theatre. He was also the proprietor of theatres at Hull and Southampton.

He wrote The Bright Future, a drama produced at the opening of the Grand Theatre, Islington, on 4 August 1883.

He died at Cricklewood Lodge, Middlesex, on 18 December 1887, aged fifty-five, and was buried in Old Willesden churchyard. He left a widow and two daughters.

Productions in South Africa

For more on Sefton Parry's life and his theatrical work elsewhere, see "Sefton Henry Parry" in Wikipedia[3].

First Cape Town sojourn (1855)

Whiling away a few months in Cape Town in 1855, en route from Australia to England, Parry performed in Cape Town with the support of the Garrison Amateur Company and the Cape Town Dramatic Club, in the Drawing Room Theatre, a large room in the Commercial Rooms which he had fitted up for his work. J.R. Taylor acted as his impresario for this period. The Music Corps of Mr Holt also assisted in some of the performances.

His first production at the Cape consisted of Used Up, or The Peer and the Ploughboy (Boucicault), with a musical interlude and the screaming farce Family Jars (Lunn) as afterpiece. This was done on Wednesday 13 June 1855, possibly with the assistance of James Lycett and company.

Other productions by Parry and his company in 1855 were:

Little Toddlekins (Charles Matthews) and Seeing Parry (Tuesday 17 June (?) 1855);

Delicate Ground, or Paris in 1793 (Dance), Monsieur Jacques (Barnett) and Domestic Economy (Lemon) (Monday 2 July 1855);

A benefit performance announced for J.R. Taylor: Monsieur Jacques (Barnett) and Used Up, or The Peer and the Ploughboy (Boucicault) (Originally announced for Monday 9 July 1855, but postponed to make way for the patriotic Fund production)

A benefit performance for the Patriotic Fund: A Capital Match (J.M. Morton),Monsieur Jacques (Barnett) and the laughable farce The Cockney in Corsica (J.M. Morton) (Friday 13 July 1855);

Farewell performance: A Phenomenon in a Smock Frock (Brough), The Lottery Ticket (Beazley) and Buried Alive, or The Visit to Japan (M'Pherson) (Thursday 26 July 1855)

All these productions took place in the Drawing Room Theatre, which Parry had constructed in the Commercial Rooms.

Second Cape Town sojourn (1857-1863) STILL TO BE ADDED


F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [4]: pp. 412, 426, 428-434, 504.

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

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.

E-mail correspondence with Peter Goodlad ( on 4 June, 2016.

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