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Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

Percy ROGERS COOKE: Architect
COWIN, POWERS and ELLIS: Project Architect
Harold Wolseley SPICER: Architect

Style:Tudor Revival


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29°51'33.16" S 31°01'37.81" E Alt: 6m

This is now part of the refurbished Playhouse Theatre Complex including the adjacent Prince's Theatre conserved and adaptively reused by SMALL & PETTIT & ROBSON (1985-6) and given the 1987 Institute of South African Architects Natal Award of Merit.

(SAB Dec 1931:45)


DURBAN's period designing of its new Playhouse, of which the buildings at present completed form a large part, has been the subject of much interest and comment.

The portion completed consists of the Playhouse Tea Court, Restaurant, and Old Tavern as the bar will be known, and is certainly the most unique example of traditional designing in the country, faithfully portraying as it does, most accurate details of the Elizabethan days when half timbered gables, oriel windows, beautiful tracery and grotesque griffins, added their note of quaint irregularity to the sterner Tudor architecture which it followed.

The front elevation to Smith Street has a frontage of stone up to the first storey, with brick and timbering above. The entrance to the Playhouse is romantic, with its hitching posts and heavy oaken doors, and the simulation of an old portcullis, used in the bygone days as a means of defence.

The Tea Court may easily become a delight to all students of the English Renaissance, when beautiful interiors became the order of the day in rich merchants' houses. Here, in the interior of the Tea-room and Tavern may be seen some of the most striking features. The open balcony and minstrel gallery, the stone walls pierced by tracery windows; the line carving and panelling, which in the old Tavern is an education and a delight for those who love their mediaeval England.

The timbering of the walls overhanging the Tea Court is in heavy English oak, and one must not forget the beautiful coloured plaques bearing the Tudor rose, the lion rampant and other heraldic devices, which decorate the walls.

The Playhouse proper is rising behind this building in the more castellated style of Henry VIII, which will lend itself to the modern atmospheric theatre of which this one of Durban's will be the most sumptuous.

Meantime, Durban will revel in its new and delightful meeting place for dinner or tea, or the more informal jug of draught ale, which may be partaken of in an atmosphere of Toby jugs and cuckoo clock.

To those who wish to dine, the very beautiful dining-hall is reached by the grand staircase, where concealed lighting throws up the beauties of the groined and vaulted ceiling which covers the stairs. The dining-hall is panelled in oak in tracery design, the latticed windows are curtained with rich materials and down between the tables are rich soft runners of heavy pile carpet. Diffused ceiling lighting is added to by the graciousness of candlestick effect.

The kitchens are naturally of the most modern electrical equipment, and here hygiene and service have been given the utmost attention. Durban has certainly reason to be proud of her latest acquisition in the theatre world, allied as it is to the finest catering restaurant and tea-room to be found anywhere.

(OD 362a-l; AB&E Feb 1927:13; AB&E Jun 1933:29-30; exhib cat SA Acad 1933; AB&E Jul 1934:11, 21)

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Writings about this entry

Cumming-George, L. 1934. Architecture in South Africa - Volume Two. Cape Town: The Speciality Press of S.A. Ltd.. pg 92-93
Durban Art Deco Society . 2021. Durban Art Deco : Heritage of a Sub-tropical African City. Durban: Durban Art Deco Society. pg 7, 28