This outdoor performance venue was opened in 1972, although The Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival was inaugurated by Andre Huguenet in 1960. The Mannville open-air theatre was styled on the Maynardville open-air Theatre in Wynberg, Cape Town, with a shared history of early patrons and development.
In the 1950’s, British actor-producer Leslie French, famous for his roles as Puck and Ariel at the open-air theatre in Regents Park, London, became involved in directing an annual Shakespeare production in Cape Town, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Maynardville open-air theatre in that city.
Leslie French also had contact with husband-and-wife team Bruce and Helen Mann, here in Port Elizabeth, and not only played a role in the establishment of Mannville in St George’s Park, but also directed 6 Shakespeare productions in Port Elizabeth between 1970 and 1975, for the Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival, at Mannville.
Each year, this annual outing of Shakespeare in the park, is attended by thousands of school learners, and provides invaluable exposure to both live theatre performances, and to classical school set-work texts. Even in the apartheid years, audiences attending Shakespeare productions were mixed, and the PESF has a proud tradition of serving all communities of the city.
And today, the cast of performers reflects our multi-cultural society, provides school learners exposure to both the performing arts, and a better understanding of their language studies, as well as an opportunity to experience classical culture, in the setting of one of the city’s public parks, itself a green space of both sporting and heritage significance.
The cast is drawn from the city’s vibrant pool of amateur and professional acting talent. Mannville has also been a nurturing ground for the young talents of SA actors Phillip Godawa, Alice Krige, and the Durban-based theatre director and showman, Themi Venturas. Radio veteran Bob Law, has also been a Mannville stalwart.
Othello 2010 will be directed by Andrew Horne; and will also include the acting talents of English academic, Andre Lemmer, who is a co-editor for the Maskew Miller Longman schools edition of Othello.
In 1852, an amateur production of Othello was staged in Port Elizabeth in aid of the Birkenhead Fund, for the survivors of that maritime tragedy near Cape Town, where the HMS Birkenhead was wrecked, while transporting troops to Algoa Bay, to fight in the 8th Xhosa frontier war.
In 1978, the late Helen Mann directed a production of Othello, staged as a tribute to the Director of Parks & Recreation, Mr John Shelton, on his retirement, in recognition of his services and contribution in the establishment of the Mannville open-air theatre.
Othello was last performed in Port Elizabeth in 1995, directed by Marthinus Basson, with SA stage and screen actor Arthur Molepo in the title role, and Andrew Horne as Iago.
Dates for the run are 16 Feb – 6 March 2010.