Maynardville Open-Air Theatre

The Maynardville Open-Air Theater is an outdoor theatre in Maynardville Park, Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa. It seats 720 people and is known for its annual Shakespeare in the Park plays.

Maynardville Open-Air Theatre
Maynardville Open-Air Theatre Logo.jpg
Maynardville Open-Air Theatre entrance - Wynberg Park - Cape Town.jpg
AddressPiers Road, Wynberg
Cape Town
South Africa
Coordinates34°00′19″S 18°27′51″E / 34.00536°S 18.46430°E / -34.00536; 18.46430Coordinates: 34°00′19″S 18°27′51″E / 34.00536°S 18.46430°E / -34.00536; 18.46430
OwnerCity of Cape Town
DesignationPriority park
TypeOpen-air theater
Opened1949; 74 years ago (1949)


Park grounds of Maynardville with a section of the lake

Park groundsEdit

Before it was named Maynardville, the land where the park now sits was government ground, first administered by the Dutch East India Company and, after 1795, by other British authorities. In July 1807 two young officers of the Cape regiment, Lieut. Louis Ellert and Lieut. Ernst Egger, married two sisters named Gertruida and Catherina Baartman. Just prior to his marriage, Ellert was granted a piece of land adjacent to the camp, where he built a cottage named Rosendal. The uneven ground was levelled and cultivated by slaves on either side of a stream known as the Krakeelwater, which flowed through the small estate. For several years Ellert and his wife shared the house with her sister and husband until, in 1810, Egger decided to purchase a piece of ground adjacent to Rosendal for his own use. Ellert was later killed in the war on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony, but because he had transferred ownership to his wife, the widow Ellert continued to manage her small farm after her husband's death.

Her brother-in-law was not so efficient in his farming operations and this, coupled with his extravagant life style, forced him into bankruptcy. His land was not lost to his family, however, because his sister-in law purchased his property. To do this and to support her large household, the widow Ellert took a bond on the property from a Cape Town businessman and member of parliament named James Mortimer Maynard.

In 1836, Maynard took over Rosendal from the widow Ellert, who had become insolvent. He later bought another property from her to make up the site for his home, Maynard's Villa. Maynard died on 9 September 1874. As he failed to produce an heir, his estate went to his nephew, William Mortimer Maynard Farmer, who was already an established business man.

Farmer married the daughter of Major Richard Wolfe, then resident magistrate and civil commissioner of Wynberg. Their daughter Enid married John Bernard, a major in the Royal Marines; they had two sons, Gerald and Brian. Enid Bernard died in 1949 and Maynardville was immediately sold to the Cape Town City Council, to be preserved as a public park. The historic but dilapidated homestead was demolished by the municipal authorities in 1954.[1][2]


The theatre had its origins in late 1949, when a local philanthropist, Margaret Molteno, submitted an application for municipal permission to convert the little-used park into an open-air theatre for dance performances. She had been inspired by a recent visit to Regents Park Open-air Theatre in London, and intended to use the project as a means of funding schools and teacher-training colleges for underprivileged children on the Cape Flats. She chaired the Athlone Committee for Nursery Education, which was a group of women who conducted charity projects in underprivileged areas.[3] The open-air theatre was first established by a small group of members from this committee, including Jean Bernadt, Dulcie Cooper, Ann Harris, Margaret McKenzie, Margaret Molteno and Lorna Thompson. A successful approach to the then Mayor of Cape Town, Mr Abe Bloomberg, resulted in permission to use the premises. The Athlone ladies had the grounds overhauled, and facilitated the pro bono services of the Municipal Orchestra, Principal Dulcie Howes of the UCT Ballet School and Dean Erik Chisholm of the College of Music as conductor.[4][5]

The open-air theatre officially began operation from the evening of 1 December 1950, with the successful performances of Les Sylphides, St Valentine's Night and Les Diversions.[6] The money raised from this and later performances went to fund a pre-primary school in Athlone as well as the establishment of the Athlone Teachers' Training College – the country's first college for coloured teachers of pre-school children. Another supported community project was the Blouvlei Nursery School, which was built by Dora Tamana, Jean Bernadt and Margaret Molteno of the Athlone Committee, under Mrs Tamana's direction, and opened in May 1955.[7][note2 1] Unusually for South Africa at the time, Maynardville had also been preserved as "Open to All" and free from segregation. This was one reason why the venue was chosen. Several of the founding committee members were members of the Black Sash, the South African Communist Party or other strongly anti-apartheid organisations. The organisers and first audiences were also multiracial.[8][9][10][11]

In 1953, instead of organising the annual ballet performance, Mrs Molteno approached the well-known South African actresses Cecilia Sonnenberg and Rene Ahrenson, and invited them to establish Shakespearean seasons.[12][13] The actresses were first uncertain and then declined the invitation later that year. The dance performances therefore began again in 1954 with Don Quixote and Carnaval performed on a wooden stage situated where the seating of the modern stage is now located. The reason for situating the stage in the north-west corner of the park was that since 1952 the badly dilapidated Maynard villa could no longer be used for routing electricity for the stage. The Athlone ladies found that they could access electricity directly from the street poles at the intersection of Church and Wolfe streets and so the stage needed to be close enough to be within reach of their cables.[14][15]

In 1955 Mrs Ahrenson and Mrs Sonnenberg finally agreed to accept the project and they enlisted the support of the Councillor A.Z. Berman for the necessary infrastructure. The Athlone Committee now stopped their annual dance performances to work on supporting the Shakespearean preparations being led by the two actresses. The organisers soon had a new and renovated stage and a raked auditorium. Mrs Ahrenson and Mrs Sonnenberg contacted Leslie French, an English stage and film actor, whom they had invited to South Africa only months before, to come to Cape Town to direct and act in the theatre's first play. It was chosen to be The Taming of the Shrew. [16][17]

The performance of The Taming of the Shrew on 29 January 1956 was a notable success. The two actresses themselves performed leading roles in this and later productions. In 1957 the theatre opened again in the usual location but with the larger dimensions it has occupied ever since. In February 1958 the Maynardville Open Air Theatre was finally declared a permanent institution by the Cape Town City Council. After the Shakespearean seasons were fully established, the ballet performances were begun again, and both were run in parallel ever since.[18][19]

In the following years, the Shakespearean seasons grew into the immensely popular annual tradition of "Shakespeare-in-the-Park", which has made Maynardville famous. After decades of serving as the public face of the theatre, Cecilia and Rene retired in the mid-1990s, and most of the theatre's drama department closed when they left. However, the park still maintains its dance performances and Shakespeare series through the Maynardville Theatre Trust, which was created after Cecilia retired.[20]

Performance chronology (1950 to present)[21][22]

(Plays are overseen by the Maynardville Theatre Trust, along with Artscape, while ballets were managed and run by the CAPAB Ballet Company from 1963 and by Cape Town City Ballet from 2002.)

The park todayEdit

Maynardville has been designated as a "priority park" by the City of Cape Town, which means it has a development framework in place, spearheaded by the Maynardville Park Action Committee. This includes repairs to the facilities, incorporating the Wynberg library, creating a new gateway entrance, upgrading Rosendal Cottage, developing the historic avenue around Wolfe Street, and constructing a new pavilion.


  1. ^ "Deputy Mayor Unveils Maynardville Plaques". Western Cape Government. 3 December 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  2. ^ GetWebCentre, Stephen Nicholenas -. "Maynardville, Cape Town – South Africa". Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  3. ^ Chisholm, S., Hauptfleisch, T. (2022). Dances in the park: The pre-history of the Maynardville Open Air Theatre. Shakespeare in Southern Africa 34(1): 23-34. DOI: 10.4314/sisa.v34i1.3
  4. ^ P. Chrimes (2 December 1950). "Crit & Pic, page 16". Cape Times.
  5. ^ Leander (18 July 2017). "Maynardville Open Air Theatre". South African History Online. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Arts Page, Official Opening of the Maynardville Theatre". Cape Times. 27 November 1950.
  7. ^ Tasmin Cupido: Peoples Post Retreat. Cape Town. 1 May 2014. p.3. Blouvlei Nursery: Mandela-sponsored Revamp Rejuvenates 60 year old crèche.
  8. ^ "Arranged for Athlone Nursery School". Cape Times. 1 December 1950.
  9. ^ "Black Sash – Making Human Rights Real – in memory of Jean Bernadt". Archived from the original on 10 August 2017. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  10. ^ Howes, Dulcie (29 October 1990). "Maynardville theatre and the Athlone Nursery School Committee". Letter to Alderman Gordon Oliver, Mayor of Cape Town. UCT Libraries.
  11. ^ Harris, Ann (21 March 1993). "Athlone Nursery School Committee". Letter to Alderman van der Vrede, Mayors Office, City of Cape Town. City of Cape Town, Civic Centre, Foreshore, 8001: University of Cape Town Libraries.{{cite press release}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  12. ^ Chisholm, Sheila (December 2016). Saunders, Christopher; Bam-Hutchison, June; Rowoldt Shell, Sandra (eds.). "Cape Town's Maynardville". Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa. 70 (2): 122–126.
  13. ^ Helicopters, Cape Town (14 January 2021). "Helicopter Rides Cape Town – Cape Town Helicopters – Rated #1". Cape Town Helicopters. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  14. ^ LC Thompson (6 December 1989). "The true founders of Maynardville". Cape Times.
  15. ^ (VSO315S/rvr/34), Office of the Town Clerk, City of Cape Town (5 March 1992). "Maynardville Theatre". Letter to Mrs A. Harris, Chairperson of the Athlone Nursery School Committee. UCT Libraries.
  16. ^ Dennis Hatfield (3 March 1954). "Performances in aid of Athlone Training Centre for Nursery School Teachers". Cape Times.
  17. ^ "Marnardville performances". Cape Argus. 24 October 1955.
  18. ^ Maynardville Park – History (City of Cape Town website) Archived 8 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Maynardville Open-air Theatre – ESAT". Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  20. ^ "Shakespeare at Maynardville". Archived from the original on 13 November 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  21. ^ Cape Times, Arts Supplement. 1950–2012. p.14 (var.)
  22. ^ History of the Shakespeare seasons
  1. ^ Athlone Training College was established under the auspices of Barkly Training College for Nursery Education. Structural alterations were undertaken and courses began in February 1952.

Previous production reviewsEdit