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Theatre Royal (venue)
A very popular name for theatre venues in the British Empire, also in various cities in South Africa, especially during the 19th century. The name formerly referred to patent theatres, which had a Royal Patent, without which performances of serious drama would be illegal.
Theatres Royal, Cape Town
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Theatre Royal, Harrington Street
Built by Mr Glynn to order of Sefton Parry. It opened on 9 August 1860. From 1861 till 1863 Parry and his first professional company, the Alfred Dramatic Club, utilized its stage. Parry returned to London (1863) and the theatre was closed down for a while. It was later revamped and hired by H.J. le Roy. The theatre was also briefly referred to as the Cape Town Theatre (circa 1861), possibly also known as the Harrington Street Theatre at a later period. The building burnt down in 1868.
Theatre Royal, Burg Street
New theatre built in 1875*. In 1876 Captain Disney Roebuck moved in and opened on 6 May 1876 with The Octoroon. In 1884** it burnt down, but was quickly rebuilt and ready for Disney Roebuck's return from London. The Theatre Royal was reopened on 3 February 1885.
Theatre Royal, Port Elizabeth
Initially referred to simply as the New Theatre, the Theatre Royal was a new theatrical venue that opened in Whites Road, Port Elizabeth on June 2, 1862, built and operated by the Port Elizabeth Dramatic Company. It was later also referred to as the [The Barn]], the Barn Theatre or The Old Barn.
Jill Fletcher (1994, pp ) rather confusingly states that the funds to construct the venue she refers to the White's Road Theatre had been found by some members of a re-constituted "Dramatic Club" which had reappeared in 1862. However according to Margaret Harradine (1994) this is erroneous and the reference is actually to a venue called the New Theatre, situated in Whites Road (and also known as the Theatre Royal or The Barn, Barn Theatre or The Old Barn), and in fact constructed by the Port Elizabeth Dramatic Company, not the "Dramatic Club".
The venue was described by the Eastern Province Herald as “a very pretty temple dedicated to the drama. . . . wonders have been done in a very short space of time. The interior is lofty, cool and commodious – the decorations tastety, (sic) simple and effective.” Richard Cooper was the scene painter. “The stage is the largest of any yet built in South Africa, and the audience portion of the building, perhaps, as comfortable as could be wished.” The newspaper was very kind regarding the seating, for patrons were well advised to bring their own cushions and the theatre became known as the Old Barn. “. . . when the hurried nature of the preparations are considered . . . Sefton Parry, will not fail to make improvements as time shall serve.” One of the prime movers to have a theatre built for Port Elizabeth was Henry William Pearson, who later served as Mayor for 16 years.
The Sefton Parry Company leased the theatre for a period of three months and opened the venue with a performance of Grist to the Mill (Planché) on 2 June 1862. A very successful three months run followed at the theatre.
Saturday, April 22, 1876, special performance of Queen’s Evidence by Captain Disney Roebuck for Uitenhage residents. Through the courtesy of the Traffic Manager, the last train returned to Uitenhage at 11.30 pm, allowing them to attend the performance.
April 24 & 25, 1876, the last two presentations of Two Roses.
On April 24 and 25, 1876, Captain Disney Roebuck's Company announced the upcoming production of Jacques Offenbach's three-act comic opera, La Fille Du Tambour Major (The Drum-Major's Daughter), first performed in Paris in 1879. The jingoistic plot is set during the Austrian occupation of Italy after Napoleon invaded Lombardy in 1806. A company of French soldiers, led by Lieutenant Robert, crossed the Alps and invaded a convent but the only occupant is a young girl, Stella, who was in penitence and was believed to be the daughter of the Duke Della Volta. Stella fell in love with Robert, but her father had promised her hand to Bambini, an ineffectual old marquis. However, Robert received the news that Stella was not the daughter of the duke, but of a French drum-major. The production was very successful overseas and ran for 240 performances in its initial form.
On December 13, 1876, Hilda Temple, an internationally acclaimed Shakespearean actress, gave her South African “farewell benefit” performance at the Theatre Royal with extracts from Othello. During the same show, Captain Disney Roebuck continued with his company, the United Service Dramatic Company. Roebuck came to South Africa in 1873 after hearing about Parry's success. He produced two shows in Port Elizabeth, Two Orphans and Under the Gaslight, “with new scenery by Mr W Thorne”. Roebuck joined the British army in 1837 and was promoted to Captain in the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Whilst in the army he organised garrison amateur theatricals. Roebuck and his actors were great favourites and were always welcomed by Port Elizabeth audiences.
During 1870 Charles du Val visited Port Elizabeth as well as the Scarelso Opera Company, and the Verdi Opera Company from Italy performed at the Theatre Royal. Soon after their visits, the Amateur Opera Company was formed and over the next few years two popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Trial by Jury and The Pirates of Penzance were produced.
Theatre Royal, Durban
(West Street and Theatre Lane). Opened November 1882, as a multiple-purpose venue (plays, dances, boxing, etc). Extensively renovated in 1899, seating 1000, for theatrical performances. Besides local productions, visiting performers and companies included H. B. Irving, Lily Langtry, Marie Tempest, Harry Lauder and Sybil Thorndike. Mark Twain performed his At Home there in 1896. From 1939 also used as a cinema. In 1953 the building was sold to a furniture business, and is currently the site of a set of warehouses.
Theatre Royal, Grahamstown.
Built round about 1848. Apparently situated in Styles’ Hotel, New Street, it had a proscenium designed by Frederick Timpson l'Ons, a well known local artist. Used by the Graham's Town Theatrical Amateur Company as a base between 1848-1850. l'Ons also designed and painted scenery for the company's productions in this and other venues.
Theatre Royal, Johannesburg
A portable corrugated iron hall used for vaudeville and similar entertainments. In 1888** Luscombe Searelle took his wood-and-iron theatre with his Opera Company to Johannesburg, travelling from Durban on wagons. The theatre was set up on the corner of Commissioner and Eloff streets. It openend with Maritana (Fletcher, 1994: 116) Closed in ****. Theatre Royal: Theatre in early Johannesburg, housed in a corrugated iron hall. ****
Theatre Royal, Kimberley
Built in Jones Street in 18** by **. ** Burnt down in 1930 when a huge fire destroyed many buildings there. [A reconstruction of the theatre was built as part of the Open Mine Museum by the Big Hole in 197*??. ]
Theatre Royal, Pietermaritzburg
Theatre Royal (play)
A play in three acts by American novelist and playwright Edna Ferber (1887-1968) and playwright and director George S. Kaufman (1889-1961).
The original text
Opened 23rd October 1934, at Lyric Theatre, London. The cast included Laurence Olivier, George Chamberlain, Mona Harrison, Marie Tempest. Directed by Sir Nöel Coward, stage manager Herbert Chown.
Published by Samuel French, 1929.
Translations and adaptations
Performance history in South Africa
Trek 2 January 1942 p 20
Jill Fletcher, 1994.
Percy Tucker, 1997
Dennis Schauffer, 197*
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