Wheeler Theatre Company

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The Wheeler Theatre Company was founded in Cape Town in May 1886 by impressario Ben Wheeler (Benjamin Wheeler, "the Gov'nor") and his son Frank Wheeler, two actor managers who focussed on musical comedy or comic opera which included farce, and minstrel programmes (on occasion referred to in playbills as "negro absurdities").

The company and the father-and-son business are both also referred to as Ben and Frank Wheeler, The Wheelers, the Wheeler Comedy Company. The Wheeler team sometimes went into partnerships with other managers, and the name of the company was thus adapted to fit the case, e.g. the Wheeler-Edwardes Gaiety Company, or Wheeler and Smith ("managers and proprietors" of the Opera House, Cape Town)

They came became among the foremost theatrical managers in South Africa in the period before the Anglo-Boer war.

Some activities by the Wheelers in South Africa

In 1886 Luscombe Searelle was with the company for a year. Among other venues, they used the Good Hope Theatre and the Theatre Royal in Burg Street for their shows. The Hawtrey Comedy Company performed Charley's Aunt under the Wheeler Theatre Company management at the Good Hope Theatre in 18**

1887: The Wheeler Theatre Company brought a new company to Cape Town to play in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town in April and May. Consisting of a cast chosen by their manager, Frank Weston, and for the most part directed by Sutton Vane, a new appointee with the company, their repertoire included Dandy Dick (Pinero), The Harbour Lights (Sims and Petitt), The Schoolmistress (Pinero), The Workman (Towers), My Sweetheart (Maeder and Gill), Two Orphans (D'Ennery and Cormon), Lady of Lyons (Bulwer-Lytton), Confusion (Moore) and Peril (Saville and Bolton).

1983: They offered a short season which included Little Lord Fauntleroy, Niobe, Dandy Dick and L'Enfant Prodigue,

1894: They brought the first Gaiety Company to appear in the country to South Africa, to appear in Cape Town. Led by Cairns James (and popularly referred to as the Cairns James Company), the company opened their season on 9 June with a performance of In Town (Ross, Leader and Carr), followed by Mam'zelle Nitouche (Meilhac and Millaud), Miss Decima (Burnand), A Gaiety Girl (Hall).

1895: They presented the company of W.J. Holloway at the Lyceum Theatre, Johannesburg with Hamlet (Leonard Rayne as "Hamlet").

1896: Hamlet done by the Ben Wheeler Theatre Company in Cape Town (Leonard Rayne once more playing "Hamlet").

1906: The Wheeler Brothers hosted a company that included such fine performers as Herbert Greville, Marie Housley, Wilfred E. Payne and the six year old Sylvia Edney, the Opera House, Cape Town, during the second half of the year. They offered a season of plays that included Mr Hopkinson (Carton), Beauty and the Barge (Jacobs and Parker), His House in Order (Pinero), The Freedom of Suzanne (Gordon-Lennox), The Perfect Lover (Sutro) and The Walls of Jericho (Sutro).

In 1909 they put on The Girl Behind the Counter (Bantock, Anderson and Talbot) in Cape Town.


D.C. Boonzaier, 1980. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

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

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

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