Monday, 17 March 2014

Some Rhodesian Theatres (1911)

 (By our Special Correspondent)

 Source - The Bioscope, December 14, 1911

Bulawayo is well catered for by the two handsome bioscope theatres now open there, namely, the "Empire" and "Patersons Popular  Picture Palace." . The Empire, situate on Main Street, and managed by Mr. Lago Clifford, well known in South African theatrical circles, is leased from the proprietors by Messrs. Clifford, Asserjohn, and Co, and is a thoroughly up-to-date and well- equipped theatre. With a handsome vestibule, of which are situated the bar, restaurant, and cloak-rooms, the theatre, both by day and night, is inviting and cosy in appearance, but particularly so when the glow of the numerous electric lights casts its glamour over it. The red upholstered seats contrast richly with the blue and gold draping; of the private boxes and various doorways, and it is not surprising that the 500 seating capacity is often severely taxed; but, no matter how crowded, cool comfort is assured by the sliding roof.

The electric current is provided by a private generating set, and a "Saxonia" machine projects a fine picture over a 95 ft. throw. Except when the boards are occupied by a theatrical company, picture shows are given every night, including Sunday, and a matinee on Saturday afternoons. In addition to the theatre, a roller rink alongside enables Mr. Clifford to meet the more strenuous wishes of his patrons, and, all round, the Bulawayo public can have no cause for complaint that amusements are lacking while the "Empire" stands.

Mr. W. R. Paterson, at the "Popular Picture Palace," provides that test of keen competition for public patronage which stimulates continuous improvement, and ensures the provision of "the best" to the public benefit. Larger than the Empire, the Palace can seat 800, and is equally well equipped to meet all the requirements of a full theatrical company. The 110-volt generators provde an abundance of light, and a " Butcher No. 12 " throws a 20 ft. picture over the 85 ft. from lens to screen. In addition to pictures, Mr. Paterson constantly supplies attractive vaudeville turns, and full companies, as occasion permits. At the time of my visit, various improvements were under way and others being considered, while arrangements were being made for an entire change of pictures every evening of the week, a project which, if effected, would undoubtedly tax the resources of all the film-hiring agencies of the Rand . In addition to the Bulawayo Palace, Mr. Paterson is proprietor of the Palace in Salisbury, where competition is of the keenest, and he deserves and receives a full measure of public support at both places.

Gatooma, a small town of some 400-500 people, on the the Bulawayo-Salisbury railway line, has also Its bioscope theatre, and I was fortunate in meeting the proprietor, Mr. Dixon, in the train. The "Rose bioscope," despite many difficulties, is reported on cheerfully as doing "very good business." The town residents afford a liberal support during the week, and at week-ends the influx from the mining properties in the district crowds the little theatre to the doors. Once again an "Empire No. 12" holds sway, and electric current is provided from a generator on the adjacent premises of an engineering firm.

Umtali, 170 miles down the Salisbury-Beira line, has a show provided at the Cecil Hotel, at present worked by a gas plant, pending the arrival and installation of an electrical equipment, which, I understand, is now en route. Here, also, Messrs. Butcher's installed their machine, and there can be no doubt that it must pay manufacturers to have "live " agents in South Africa.

At Penhalonga, Mr. H. Perrem has closed down his show, pending the arrival of his electric outfit, which he anticipates will be working early in December.

Far North, in the heart of what, but a few years ago, was "Darkest Africa," Mr. N. George exhibits 8,000 ft. of film per week to the residents of Elizabethville, Karauga, Belgian Congo, and, I am advised, has no cause to regret his enterprise.

Salisbury the capital of Rhodesia, with a population of about 4,000, has no less than four bioscopes shows in keen competition for public support. Chief among them is the Palace Theatre, not yet fully completed the property of Mr. Paterson, of Bulawayo. With a seating capacity of 800, and, as at Bulawayo, fully equipped for the accommodation of full theatrical companies, and with a bar and tea lounge attached, Mr. Paterson can boast that it is Salisbury's only "theatre." A Pathe machine, and the silver screen, are here preferred, and shows—unless a company occupies the boards are given every night. While incomplete, it is hardly wise to criticise the appointments, for the leather-upholstered seats on order, which will oust the present wooden chairs, will in themselves make a vast difference to the cosy appearance of the theatre.

The Market Hall Bioscope is also in a transition stage, the work of redecoration having just begun, but the proprietary syndicate pins its faith to showing the finest pictures in the town, and the public largely endorses the view.

The Posada Rink and Bioscope is under canvas which has seen its best days, and was. I am informed. the first show in the town, when fancy prices were obtainable, and handsome profits could be made. The " Empire No. 12 " here again holds sway, and a very clear, bright picture is provided, the evening being divided between rinking and pictures. The probability is that the advent of the rainy  season will necessitate closing down.


Extracted by Eddy Norris

ORAFs records its thanks and appreciation to the author, the publishers and printers for the use of their material. No financial gain is made or expected from this article.

Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at

 Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at

(Please visit our previous posts and archives

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