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  • Writer's pictureWaterfront Theatre School

The History And Development Of South African Theatre-An Inside Perspective By Delia Sainsbury

Updated: Mar 27, 2020


Having completed a yearlong international tour of South Africa in the London based musical theatre production of West Side Story, it was always in the back of our minds to one day return to this country that had left such a lasting impression, in spite of, or perhaps because of, all its complexities. However, let’s just say our return to SA in 1976 wasn’t quite what Keith and I expected.

We had noticed whilst touring South Africa that there was an opportunity for us to develop dance and musical theatre. We’d also learnt that the international management for West Side Story had been unable to cast the production with a solely South African cast-my how times have changed!

When the unexpected invitation came to return to SA in 1976 to work with a well-known South African choreographer and for the fledgling SABC television station, we jumped at the chance, the choreography being the main attraction.

Well, not all together true.

My husband, Keith Galloway, jumped at the chance, and being married, as my mother constantly and forcefully reminded me, I sort of tagged along. I had just finished a West End show with my name above the title for the first time, and subsequently been offered the lead in a touring musical theatre production to Toronto. So let’s just say as much as I loved the idea of South Africa, I was less than keen to return at that time.

Anyway, marital obligation won, and we arrived back in South Africa with three hundred English pounds and a return air ticket, just in case it didn’t work out.

And it didn’t!

Mainly because the lady who was supposed to have organised our work permits had failed to do the correct paper work, which was why we found ourselves after nearly three months of not working, and sleeping in various friends’ houses (including Richard Loring’s, where the press were convinced I was Anneline Kriel- but that’s a whole other blog!), we found ourselves the week before Christmas 1976 with thirty rand to our name and a return air ticket.

So, what to do?

We had an appointment set for the 22nd December with Home Affairs in Pretoria. This was Christmas party season you understand, so not the best timing. And that’s when the lady in the crimpline dress and the beehive hairdo, told us in a monotone from behind a grill, that “YOU MUST LEAVE THE REPUBLIC IN TEN DAYS”. In fact she said it several times. Now this was not what we had planned. We had let our flat in London, turned down work; Keith a lucrative television series and me the show in Canada- to start our lives, bringing our West End theatre training and performance skills for the development of South African Theatre.

My husband, who never took “no” for an answer under any circumstances, then miraculously produced from a magic briefcase our teaching diplomas accredited by UK performing arts schools and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, London. He demanded to see “someone in authority”, which didn’t go down too well with the lady in the crimpline dress with the beehive.

We were unceremoniously marched up many flights of stairs to a reception area covered with maroon carpet, so we knew we were in the big league. After being kept waiting for at least an hour, during which we could hear raucous voices from behind a huge paneled wooden door, (the Christmas party- oh dear) a very large gentleman by the name of Stroebel emerged, clearly in a very unhappy mood at seeing us, having been dragged away from his party.

His opening gambit to my husband was, “Well, Galloway, and what do you want and what’s your problem?” which, if you knew my husband was not an auspicious beginning.

I squeezed Keith’s hand to remind him to be nice, whereupon Keith decided to ooze charm, which he could do on rare occasions-(very rare).

“Meneer Stroebel”, he began, (I was amazed he’d learned “Meneer!) “We have come to South Africa to open a theatre training institute at the invitation of one of your leading Dance Directors (name withheld!) and my wife and I are intent, no determined, no passionate about bringing our skills to South Africa for the development of South African theatre, theatre training and performance as well as for the benefit of your new television station.”

At this point I was gazing at him with a mixture of horror and profound admiration. The result of this charm offensive, which lasted around an hour and concluded with celebratory champagne- (well it was Christmas), was that we received a stamped temporary residence for six months, as long as we could prove we had opened a theatre training centre offering acting classes, singing classes and dance classes, whereupon it would be converted to permanent residence. VICTORY!

We walked out in a daze. I looked at Keith and said, “What have we just done?” He replied, “ I think we’ve just agreed to open a performing arts school within six months”.

“I don’t want to open a stage school” I said, “It’s ridiculous. It’s far too much responsibility. We have no premises, nowhere to live in case you hadn’t noticed, and with what funding?” I asked him. “And we have thirty rand left”. “Oh well” he said “ I know we have one pupil lined up for a dance class, her name is Jo-Ann Pezarro. She’s a well known South African singer, I believe.”

“Great,” I replied, “one student! Well thank goodness Richard Loring’s brother has invited us for Christmas and I can now do those “Snow White“ gigs in the Disney on Parade show. It’s paying forty rand a shift, we’ll get by. And we can accept that New Year’s Eve gig at the Revolving restaurant in Braamfontein. At least we can eat”.

And with our last thirty rand we bought each other a Christmas gift. A clown-to remind ourselves what idiots we were.

I still have on a shelf in my house those two clowns- a reminder of when all we had was thirty rand and a return air ticket.

And so it all began… and the rest, as they say, is history.


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