blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]

Theatres

All the world’s a stage

blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]

Acting is merely the art of keeping a large number of people from coughing.
Sir Ralph Richardson

Currently St Helena doesn’t have a working theatre; but we used to…

This page is in indexes: Island History, Island Place, Island Detail

Theatres [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]{10}

Below: The Jamestown Upper TheatreThe Barracks TheatreOther TheatresModern TheatreRead More

We have put on this page as much information as we can find, which in some cases is not much. We would be delighted to know more - if you can help please contact us.

The Jamestown Upper Theatre

We know there was a dedicated theatre in mid-Jamestown in the early 1800s. We know little about it, other than it having put on amateur productions and that it was destroyed by fire on 15th July 1831{2}.

Assumed location, Jamestown Upper Theatre [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]
Assumed location, Jamestown Upper Theatre

We have a few images (below) and from these we deduce that the theatre must have stood somewhere near where the Jamestown Baptist Church now stands (but on the other side of the road - now occupied by houses).

Denzil Ibbetson{3} was a talented artist, famous for his drawings of Napoleon, and was also the chief commissary officer on St Helena. When Ibbetson was not feeding the army or making drawings of Napoleon he was often to be found performing on the stage of the St Helena Amateur Theatre. As well as acting in 43 plays between 1816 and 1823, he was also theatre manager and the accountant.

Theatre (right) and Barracks, 1809 [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]
Theatre (right) and Barracks, 1809{a}

December 1816 [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]
December 1816

April 1820 [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]
April 1820

September 1822 [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]
September 1822

March 1826 [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]
March 1826

Theatre ruins from Side Path [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]
Theatre ruins from Side Path

The Barracks Theatre

In 1845 the island’s Baptists opened a Mission House in Jamestown, apparently to combat the widespread drunkenness and lecherous behaviour that was rife in the island’s garrison at the time. We think this Mission House was where the Baptist Church currently stands. Unimpressed by this, the garrison responded by opening a ‘theatre’ in the Barracks across the road (in what is now Pilling Primary School) - but not one that put on intellectual plays or other drama. It was more of a cross between a music hall and a tavern. The Baptists were, unsurprisingly, furious, and petitioned the military commanders to have the ‘theatre’ closed down, arguing that it was “a species of amusement which has ever proved a fruitful means or occasion of dissipation and uncleanness, as well as an effectual source of hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, is a great grief to the little band of our brethren, who are labouring for the salvation of the souls of their fellow-sinners”. It seems the Baptists won - the operations of the theatre were apparently suspended.

Other Theatres

We know that one of the buildings on Grand Parade was a theatre in the 1800s. We are not entirely sure which building and when it operated, but we understand that the ‘theatre on Castle Square’ burned down in the 1860s or 1870s{4}.

We also know that the Boer prisoners operated an informal theatre in the Deadwood camp.

Both the Paramount Theatre and Queen Mary Theatre used to exist, each seating 500 people, but both were primarily cinemas not true theatres, though both were also used for Pantomime performances. The Paramount Theatre is now a warehouse and the Queen Mary Theatre (in Napoleon Street{5}) has since 1986 been the Queen Mary Store.

The Records{6} show that in 1882 “A theatre is opened in Jamestown Barracks..” Whether this was a ‘proper’ theatre, or a resurgence of the garrison’s music hall/tavern closed down in the 1840s under protest from the Baptists, we do not know.

Modern Theatre

Every year the ‘Ivyletts’ treat us to a Pantomime… As there is no dedicated theatre building, performances take place at Prince Andrew School. It remains a longer-term objective of the ‘Ivyletts’ to purchase and fit-out a dedicated theartre building, somewhere on St Helena{7}.

It has been proposed that High Knoll Fort might be used for open-air theatre productions, but as at the time of writing{8} this has not been attempted.

Read More

Article: “St Helena Theatrical Review

Published in the St Helena Herald 21st December 2007{1}

When you are travelling in traffic on the country roads of St Helena you know you are onto something good. Passing through St Paul’s we were the third of three cars and by the time we entered through the gates at Longwood we were a convoy of seven. It was clear that this was no constituency meeting.

Aladdin of the Blue Lamp, 2007 [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]

Indeed it was the much anticipated, much awaited production of Aladdin of the Blue Lamp, showing for one night only! A long time in the waiting this was the first production by the Parish of St. Matthew’s Pantomime Troupe since the fall of the curtain on Snow White back in 2006. This had been the biggest gig on the St Helena Theatrical calendar for some time. Tickets were hard to come by and there were reports of thousand-fold inflation in desperate last minute ebay bidding.

They came from far and wide and queued in the cold Longwood night for a seat in the St. Mark’s Church Theatre. If they didn’t roll in the aisles with laughter it was only because they were packed too tightly on the wooden benches. So tightly were they seated that there was no legroom for those over 5ft 5in. It has been rumoured that the seating arrangements were being trialled for configuration into the Standard Class of St Helena Airways. Those who were forewarned came forearmed; a small cushion had the immediate effect of an upgrade to Plantation Class.

Bishop John warmed the crowd with a series of carols, which became increasingly interactive. It had been leaked to the Theatrical Press that this was in fact a ‘taster’ of a soon to be launched fitness DVD. Fitness by Candlelight: A fitness and toning regime for men women and children, lead by Bishop John (Pre-order www.amazon.sh). As the leg muscles of the theatre goers began to ache the cast had a last read of the script, although some malicious accounts report that they were actually writing the final act. Then, as Governor Gurr and Bishop John rounded off with a carolling duet the stage was set, the light switched off (dimmed) and the production began.

There were those in the audience who came believing that they were too sensible to laugh at a man in drag, or primary school underwear jokes. Maybe they didn’t all laugh, but they defiantly roared their delight. From start to finish the production was an absolute scream. Father Chris played a flamboyant Widow Twanky with ballooning breasts and plenty of advice for the women. Assisted in her laundrette by the twins, Ping and Pong (the less said about their father the better) it was her son Aladdin played by Samantha Ellick who fell in and out of luck with evil uncles and genies with baggy trousers full of eastern promise. Falling in luck lead to falling in love, with the luscious Princess Hotlips, whose chest size was rivalled only by Widow Twanky herself. An apparent unscheduled intermission was hosted to great effect by standup comedian and cast member Bill Drabble, each joke winding its way to violent applause and raucous laughter. As the production continued fears that it may have peaked too early were laid to rest. The cherry of the theatrical script was the skilful and hilarious intermingling of St Helenian character, and characters, into the comedy and into the plot. Genies could design, build and operate the most improbable palaces overnight, but quaked at the mention of an airport. For a short while a Nigel Kirby character made an appearance ‘in a blinding flash of light’ alas, no guitar.

There have always been those who said that Father Chris was raised by a pantomime troupe before joining the priesthood, and the intermission people were starting to believe it!

Governor Gurr and Bishop John may have thought they had seen the last of the stage when they duet-ed Good King Wenceslas. However, at the insistence of the cast they competed with the children volunteers in a song-and-mime gag. Spirited performances were given by both of them. A Mars bar well earned! In the back stage press debrief Governor Gurr (née Candidate Gurr) revealed that he now understood why the Foreign Office Interview Panel had dedicated a quarter of their interview time to ascertaining his theatrical ability.

Memorable though it was, the script was further enhanced by the often time shrieking aloud of the stage directions as the performance was shepherded by its dedicated cast from comedy start to comedy finish. After the performance, Christmas cheer and Christian goodwill spread around the stalls just as fast as the tea, savoury bites, baked cakes and mince pies. Three cheers to the cast, stage hands and caterers of Aladdin of the Blue Lamp, and a Merry Christmas to them!

Sadly, my Diocesan Almanac does not confirm another performance of the St. Matthew’s Troupe in 2008. However, my tout has been promised a good commission and has his ear to the ground. In short this was a first class, second-rate piece of theatre and everything a Christmas Pantomime should be. Industry rumour that the production has been nominated for a Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Parish Pantomime has not yet been confirmed. One thing is certain, this was not the dark underbelly or grim average of local theatre, this was The Brightside.

Contributed Anonymously
Reprinted by kind permission of The Stage

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]

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closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]

Laugh at funny theatre humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]


Credits:

{a} by William John Burchell, botanist & schoolmaster (on St Helena from 1805 to 1810). Copyright © the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, used with permission{1}{9}.



Footnotes:

{1} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{2} Due, in part, to there being too little water available in The Run, as a result of which, Governor Dallas had ‘fire plugs’ installed throughout the town.

{3} Ibbetson was one of a handful of British Army officers who were on St Helena for the full six-year period of Napoleon’s exile. He arrived in 1815 with Napoleon aboard the Northumberland, and left in 1823, two years after the Emperor’s death. He was a talented amateur artist.

{4} Both main theatres burning down may seem suspicious, but actually before the arrival of electric lighting, theatre fires were sadly all too common.

{5} We understand that prior to Napoleon’s exile Napoleon Street was known as Cock Street. We do not know exactly when it was renamed. The moonbeamsforall.com • Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab [Saint Helena Island Info:Theatres]Moonbeams Shop is in Napoleon Street.

{6} The St Helena Records is a collection of documents dating back to the earliest days of St Helena, held in the Government of St Helena Archives. The Archives can be accessed in person or via email - see our Family And Friends page for more. From the records and other sources we have compiled an events database, which drives our events-based pages e.g. On This Day page. You can search our events database in various ways on our Chronology page.

{7} It has been suggested that this might be combined with converting the old Paramount Cinema building into an Arts Centre.

{8} W/c 19th June 2017.

{9} Strictly, permission was given to the St Helena Heritage Society to use Burchell’s images for “any Museum of St Helena purpose”, which we consider applies to sainthelenaisland.info.

{10} This image is probably copyright{1} to some TV production company or other, but as it is one of the most widely shared images on the Internet we assume it’s OK to use it. If you represent the TV company and want royalties for your image to add to the $billions you have earned from the show, please contact us…and we’ll find another image.



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