The Adelaide Repertory Theatre is the oldest surviving amateur company in the Southern Hemisphere. It is in Adelaide that the first Australian repertory theatre began.
From humble beginnings in Bryceson Treharne’s classroom in the Elder Conservatorium on September 24 1908 the organisation known affectionately as The Rep grew to be the successful non professional company it is today.
Treharne’s group met to read and discuss plays and to learn of the exciting European modern drama movements of the day. Six months later they decided to stage Y.B. Yeats , “Land of Desire”and G.B. Shaw’s “Man of Destiny”. They called their fledgling company The Adelaide Literary Theatre.
Keen support from the community inspired the group to stage more ambitious plays. Experienced outsiders gave assistance, “Curtains were installed and acetylene lights assisted by reflectors made very passable footlights”. Residents of Adelaide realised the value of the project offering to pay subscriptions and each paid five shillings per year for two tickets. A programme was sixpence. The season was a hit, all seats one price, first in best dressed, everyone was equal and neither money nor social position could buy a better seat. Late comers were left standing in the street. In 1909 they moved between Walkerville and Unley Town Halls in the suburbs.
Realising the company was in good hands Treharne returned to Paris, the company prospered and in 1914 took the name which has endured to this day.
Every six weeks a new play was presented but the effects of the First World War, a drought and bubonic plague took their toll. By the end of 1921 “the outlook was decidedly gloomy and the Rep came close to drawing the final curtain”, said Muriel Craigie, secretary at the time, but “love had refused it to allow it to die”.
Anxious to have a venue in the city, the Rep moved to Gawler Place in the CBD. Sadly when the opportunity to buy the King’s Theatre arose, they did not have the funds. During the depression the Rep selected cheerful plays and acknowledged the talkies with the statement that “no mechanical drama can give the degree of pleasure and artistic satisfaction provided by a good play, well acted and carefully produced.”
Moving to Australia Hall Angas Street, the Rep grew and prospered and 1934 saw the production of Goethe’s Faust with a cast of 60 and 19 sets! The Centenary of South Australia was celebrated by staging “Light the Founder”’, a romantic tale of Captain William Light, who planned the city of Adelaide. My grandmother, Iris Hart played the principal role in each of these.
During World War Two the Rep raised funds for the Red Cross, Legacy and the Cheer Up Hut. Memberships soared and there was a waiting list to join.
Moving to the Tivoli Theatre and back to the Royalty and Unley Town Hall the company was doing up to 10 shows a year, always fund raising and finally in 1963 thanks to the driving force of Dame Ruby Litchfield, the Arts Theatre, in Angas Street, Adelaide was opened as the permanent home for the company. The Adelaide Repertory Theatre S (ARTS) is a 500 seater with fly tower, rehearsal room, excellent and popular premises used constantly by the Rep and many other companies, a land mark in the city and in the history of the Company.