Public Talk on ‘Post-Migrant’ Theatre

Was war vor dem Post?

Eine historische Perspektive auf postmigrantisches Theater.

We happily announce and cordially invite to the public talk on Post-Migrant Theatre by Azadeh Sharifi, associate of the Centre for Global Theatre History,

Dr. Sharifi’s talk (in German) will take place on Wednesday, 17 May, 12am (sharp)-1:30pm at Georgenstraße 11, 80799 Munich, room 109.  The event is jointly organized by the Department of Theatre Studies LMU and the Centre for Global Theatre History.

Azadeh Sharifi abstract & biographical note





Grooming a White Elephant: Maurice E. Bandmann and the Empire Theatre in Gibraltar

On 13 November, 1920, Bandmann wrote to J.R. Crook, Government Engineer of Gibraltar, announcing his attention to apply for a two-year lease (with an option for renewal) to the Empire Theatre in order to convert it into a ‘Cinema Theatre’ for the ‘exhibition of the very best and up to date English picture productions’. On a recent visit he had noted the lack of such films. He claimed to have a virtual monopoly on the distribution of English films in Egypt and Palestine and enclosed a garish red and yellow letterhead of his Bandman Film Control company printed in pseudo-Egyptian style with pyramids and palm trees in the background.

Bandmann Letterhead

Crook noted in a memorandum (19.11.20) to the Colonial Secretary, C.W.J. Orr, that there were plans to demolish the theatre – which was in bad state of repair and had been unoccupied for some years – in order to erect forty tenements in the chronically constricted fortress town. Orr, however, proved to be very receptive to the idea of a cinema and a correspondence with Bandmann ensued in which the latter extended his offer from two to three years and from cinema to light opera and variety. Bandmann refers specifically to the Empire (Jan 13, 1921) He also inquired generally about the location, despite being aware of the availability of the vacant Empire (Aug 12, 1921), but was presumably reluctant because of its location outside the town centre on Rosia Road .

Rosia Road, Gibraltar, ca. 1910

On 19 December 1921, an agreement signed between Colonial Office and Bandmann including a detailed ‘Schedule of proposed repairs and renovations’. The lease was for three years at a nominal rent of £2 per month in the light of the substantial investment required. Renovations included the installation of flush toilets on all floors, tiled urinals, a corrugated iron roof, concrete steps, new floorboards for the verandah, plus major rebuilding inside, and out. Two days before the scheduled opening, an advertisement in the Gibraltar Chronicle announced with typical Bandmann puff: ‘New Empire Theatre. Licencee Maurice E. Bandman. Grand Opening This Saturday 4 Feb., 1922. NOTE.– This Theatre has been remodeled, re-furnished, re-seated, re-decorated and re-lighted throughout at enormous cost.’ (GC on 2 Feb 1922). The costs had indeed been substantial as a colonial official later admitted and amounted to about £4000. (Letter from the Colonial Secretary 18.2.22).

Opening of the New Empire

The final result was deemed impressive. In a preview article, published a day later the self-advertisement was confirmed:

‘the building has received a complete renovation inside and out, most comfortable cane arm chairs have been installed, refreshment bars arranged for different parts of the house, cloakrooms and all modern conveniences … One is particularly struck by the excellent view of the stage obtainable from the whole of the seats. An orchestra has been engaged which will perform the music specially arranged for each film. The pictures screened will be sixteen by twenty feet and the fire proof operator’s box is a novelty in Gibraltar, equipped with dual projection, thus obviating waiting between the parts or in case of a breakdown. At the back or the circle is a commodious lounge with liquor and coffee bars.  (‘Opening of New Empire Theatre’, GC Feb 3 1922).


At the actual the opening The Gibraltar Chronicle enthused:

Wonders have been worked with the building since Mr. Bandman took it in hand, the seating arrangements could not be more comfortable, without a suspicion of crowding in spite of the fact that the big auditorium has accommodation for a thousand people.  A very well got up programme giving all essential information was not the least welcome of the many provisions made for the convenience of the public. (GC, 6.2.1922)


Unfortunately, the city council also had a say in the matter. In 1921 the first city council had been elected and had begun to flex its political muscles against the colonial administration.[1]

In a long report the council engineer outlined a list of additional repairs and alterations required. The building was not particularly solid, as it was constructed of wood, steel framing and corrugated iron and quite literally built on sand. One of the stanchions had even dropped about six inches but the steel frame still provided enough flexibility. He even recommended the installation of dust extraction by vacuum cleansers. The involvement of the city council, often at odds with the Colonial Secretary deepened and led to the issue of a license for ‘cinema purposes only’. For live performances the council insisted that Bandmann install a fire curtain between stage and auditorium, a major additional expense. Although the license was issued by Orr on 24 February and the cinema opened on 4 March, on 9 March, the day Bandmann died, the city council reiterated its opposition to a license for ‘plays or other performances necessitating the use of scenery’. The council admitted, however, that in a wooden building a fire curtain only provided a marginal improvement in and that asbestos lining or even fire-proof paint might be acceptable. (Letter to Orr by Chairman of the City Council, 9 March 1922.)

The first test case came in April 1922 with the impending arrival of The Scamps, a variety company that had been touring the Bandmann Circuit in the east and was now on its way back to England. The new manager of the New Empire, Charles Lewis, the younger brother of Bandmann’s secretary and main heir, Nancy Lewis, wrote to the Colonial Secretary on 19 and 20 April 1922, requesting permission in reference to a decision by the city council, pointing out that the company did not carry any scenery and that provision would be made to ensure fire safety: ‘in the way of having a fireman in continuous attendance on the stage throughout each performance as also a goodly supply of water and sand fire buckets.’ Exceptional permission was granted but no further licenses would be entertained until the necessary requirements of the council were complied with.

This restriction was a major blow for the enterprise because Bandmann had planned the New Empire as a stopping off point for his companies on the way to his main circuit. It meant that the company was now operating an expensively renovated cinema for which high ticket process could not be demanded. Charles Lewis cancelled the lease on 31 May 1924 and the building was returned to the Colonial Office or more precisely to J. R. Crook, the Government Engineer, who was once again saddled with the building. In a memorandum to the Colonial Secretary he stated that no new tenders had been forthcoming and expressed his despair over its possible use: ‘The building has since it was erected 20 years ago proved a “white elephant” and failing a satisfactory offer (…) should be pulled down.’ (GGA 25.7.1924). This is indeed what happened – at a cost of £ 1000.00 to the government of Gibraltar.


[1] Stephen Constantine: ‚the City Council became (…) not just a passive agent of government but an alternative interest group and actor’, Community and identity: The making of modern Gibraltar since 1704, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), 332.

Looking for Maurice E. Bandmann in Gibraltar

The final stage of my archival research on the theatre manager and impresario Maurice E. Bandmann (1872-1922)  returns to the beginning and to the end. Bandman, now with one ‘n’, died in Gibraltar on 9 March 1922 at the Colonial Hospital. He had contracted enteric (typhus) in Egypt and fell ill shortly after arriving in Gibraltar at the beginning of February for the opening of the newly renovated New Empire Theatre.

Gibraltar was also the beginning: here he began his first Mediterranean tour in September 1897, a short stop on the way to Malta his main destination and then on to Alexandria and Cairo. Gibraltar however became traditionally the first port of call on the many tours of his companies along the Bandmann Circuit. In Gibraltar Bandmann also acquired one of his most trusted managers, Stephan Lopez (1877-1953), who came from a Gibraltese family and worked his way up from stage carpenter to company manager. The website kept by Stephen’s granddaughter, Vanessa Lopez, remains the best source of information on the Bandmann Circuit (

My research began on a Sunday afternoon, 23rd of April 2017. I made use of my extended stay in London to catch a flight to Gibraltar, of which there are several. I knew from correspondence with the Gibraltar Archives that Bandmann was buried in the North Front Cemetery in plot B. The cemetery backs onto the airport so you have to walk across the runway to reach it: in fact you have two walk (or drive) across the runway to reach Gibraltar full stop. The main road and walkway, imperially entitled Winston Churchill Avenue, is blocked off when aircraft land and take off.

Winston Churchill Avenue

The cemetery is quite extensive and well known because it hosts graves looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Plot B is subdivided into B1 and B2 and covers an extensive area, much of which is overgrown with grass, weeds and flowers including poppies. While the recently deceased boasted large gravestones and even burial vaults, and the war graves gleamed cleanly in the bright sunlight, as though the soldiers and sailors had only been buried yesterday, those interred much earlier were in a dismal state. Quite apart from the long grass and weeds, many gravestones had been polished clean, presumably by the corrosive salt air, which has rendered the inscriptions illegible. As I could be fairly sure that nobody had tended the grave for 90 years, it was clear that I could never find it just by searching amongst the gravestones. I would have to come back and hope that the administration of the cemetery had better records (it didn’t). It was also possible that the grave had been turned over, the remains disinterred to make way for more recent arrivals.

North Front Cemetery, Gibraltar

I left the cemetery and made my way into town to look for my hotel which I knew was located in Cannon Lane. I wandered past fortifications built into the rock and literally walked through a tunnel under the Rock. I wandered along main street and looked at the mixture of Spanish-style colonial buildings, decorated with the signs of heavy tourism. I found the hotel of the same name is the address, tucked into a little courtyard. It had seen better days and the rooms had all the flair of the 1950s. The room key was a real old-fashioned bit key and not a digital signal.

Entering Gibraltar

The next day begin shortly after 9 AM and a hearty English breakfast. I walked up to the Garrison Library which I knew had a full set of the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper. The library is located in an old colonial style building. It consists of two reading rooms lined with old volumes in glass cases. In the middle is a large table at which the readers sit. Apart from myself the letter consisted of two middle-aged ladies who spoke to each other alternating between English and Spanish, which as I quickly discovered is the common form of communication here. Conversations often begin in English, switch to Spanish, and then revert again to English according to conventions which remained obscure to me.

Garrison Library, Gibraltar

I began with March 1922: the month of his death, I quickly discovered the newspaper report. He died on March 9 and was buried the next day. The quick burial was possibly due to the disease, which was highly infectious.

Since the newspaper documented arrivals and departures I found a reference to Bandmann arriving in the first week of February at the Bristol Hotel , a colonial-style building which still exists (GC 6.2.1922). Also mentioned was a Miss Nancy Lewis (named in his will as Annie Lewinstein), Bandmann’s secretary to whom he bequeathed a quarter of his estate. She seems to have been in his constant companion in his final years. Present at the funeral were his niece, named as Miss Bandman McLaren, which could only have been the daughter of his sister Lily, who was also a travelling actress. Either she must have been accompanying him or had travelled to Gibraltar on learning that he fallen seriously ill. Others present were William Freear, the manager of the New Empire and Nancy’s brother, Charles Lewis (Charles Lewinstein who was named in his will as a trustee). The latter had hurried to Gibraltar on 17 February 1922 and arrived before he died.[1]Also present at the funeral was the US vice-consul, Bandmann’s solicitor in Gibraltar, A.C. Montegriffo, and J.R. Crook, the government engineer with whom he had negotiated the renovation of the theatre.

Death notice, Gibraltar Chronicle

My next stop was the Gibraltar National archives, located in a former convent and accessible through a metal gate supervised by a very friendly lady Guard. The archive itself occupies one side of a courtyard. It is described on an oral history website as ‘a discreet building, set back in the quietly dignified courtyard of the Governor’s Palace exuding the elegance of a bygone era of colonialism.  The offices are heavy with the alluring smell of old wood and papers, and dust motes float like miniature ballet dancers in the rays that tumble through the windows.  A researcher could happily wallow here for hours, nosing around records that unfold the history of Gibraltar little by little.’—local-voices/gibraltar-archive-office.

Gibraltar Government Archives

While I can confirm the charm but not the ‘dust motes’ I easily registered in one room and was led into another by a friendly young archivist. The second room was full of government papers. I spied two boxes with the labels Empire Theatre. The one dated 1903 to 1918, the other was entitled Empire Theatre, Public Visitors and Brothels. And in this one I struck gold. It contained government files concerning the theatre from 1919 until its eventual sale and demolition in the 1930s. The most detailed files concerned however negotiations between Bandmann and the colonial authorities, beginning in 1921 and culminating in the re-opening of the Empire as a cinema just a few days before his death. This file comprises the most detailed documentary evidence of Bandmann as a theatre developer, primarily in this case for cinema because evidently the conversion of the dilapidated Empire Theatre into a fully functional theatre for live performances entailed a considerable investment, especially with regard to fire safety. From there I went around the corner to in the office of births and deaths and ordered a copy of Bandmann’s death certificate.

As all three places are located within 200 yards of one another, this was by far the most efficient use of research time in the past six years. The main result of this research was the detailed documentation of Bandmann’s leasing and renovation of the Empire Theatre which I discuss in more detail in the next section.

[1] Charles Lewinstein, born 1897, manager,  aged 25 departed London on 17. Feb 1922 on the  Kaiser I Hind bound for Gibraltar. 
Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.
5989.30. Passenger Lists leaving UK 1890-1960 Transcription.


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