The Story of The Space

4/ “This couldn’t have cost much…”

Moyra, Issy, Derek, Nic and and Andy Fine

Moyra, Issy, Derek, Nic and and Andy Fine


Sitting back in the Open Space in London three months previously I had thought: ‘This couldn’t have cost much…’  Then I was thinking of a slightly larger photographic studio with two or three small productions being staged for 20 people at a time.

Now I was standing before a three-storey building – courtesy of Raymond Sebba.  It was full of emptiness.  Rubble, yes, lots of that.  But seats, a stage, theatre lights and lighting boards, cafe and office equipment, phones, dressing rooms…  my mind spun.  Tsunami wasn’t a fashionable word back then. We needed money – lots of it.

Jane Raphaely is a great magazine editor, by any standards.  Some years before she had given me my first chance as a photojournalist on the  exciting, innovative publication that Nasionale Pers had had the wisdom of asking her to create.  I had become one of Fair Lady’s regular freelances.  She taught me an awful lot.  I went back to her.

Sitting in her office I outlined what was happening.  She already knew much of the detail.  Would she set up and run a fund-raising committee?

‘No.’  I was crushed.  However, she would help.  She roped in her Assistant Editor, the late Kathy (later Kate) Jowell; phoned round her friends.

I found myself sitting in the dusty, hot room at the top of the stairs which was to become a bedroom for various playwrights, visitors, and Sydney, our watchman.  Surrounding me were the cream of Cape Town’s charity fund-raisers. Bunty Blooman, actress/columnist with whom I had worked during the London trip, and with whom I had first visited the Open Space, was there with all her wonderful, effervescent enthusiasm.  Kathy Jowell, Adelle Searll, Gloria Brodie, and, I am ashamed to say, several others whose names this old brain has been unable to excavate, sat looking cool and composed.  Jane had come along just to set it in motion.  Kathy had done her work.  We needed the committee to be a charity so that people could donate their money, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t abscond to some delightful Pacific paradise.  She had it all set out.  We even had a name:  The Foundation for Art and Theatre.  FAT.
Suggestions were aired, decisions were taken.

Sitting in one corner was a handsome, dignified lady who made no contribution.  Afterwards I asked Jane about her.  ‘Aah,’ she said, ‘Moyra’s not completely convinced yet.  If you can get her on your side she’ll be your hardest worker.’  Once again Jane’s judgement and prescience proved spot-on.  A couple of meetings later Moyra Fine threw in her lot with The Space, and a dynasty was born.

By this time Gloria Brodie had hurled her formidable, small, well-shaped frame into The Space.  She spent most of her days in our developing premises as Prime Negotiator.  With delicate brute force and considerable personal charm she cajoled and bullied suppliers to give us wood and paint and screws and nails and hammers and saws and nuts and bolts and drills and, well, anything you’d need to build a new theatre.  She must have saved us, single-handedly, several thousand Rand.   Besides all this she was trying to set up The Space Club.

From the start we had assumed that we would not be allowed to play to non-racial audiences.  The plan was to become a club. Then when the Government, inevitably, shut us down we would plaster the banning order all over the front-door, apologising to those of colour who could not be allowed in, urging them to join our legal club.  We hoped finally to have enough members to run only as a club. We had investigated the Argo Film Circle, which ran very successfully to mixed audiences.  They were very helpful and, later became integral to the success of The Space, mainly through another of the great mainstays of our theatre, Jean Naidoo.

We had taken legal advice – at this stage already we had some of the top, very expensive, legal brains in the City giving us free and generous aid. We had everything in place, and Gloria started to set the wheels rolling.  She was, however, so busy in the daily Negotiating Grind, that she asked to pass this task on. Moyra took over.

From that moment till the end (and beyond) Moyra became one of the essential, indispensable  people at The Space.  Quiet, shy, self-effacing – this all cloaked a will of iron, determination of steel. Without her The Space would never have lasted as long as it did.

I mentioned a dynasty.  Moyra’s husband, Issy, had allowed her to devote what was to become an all-consuming amount of time to us as long as she never gave us any money.  This was a very wise decision on his part – Moyra’s generosity would have cost her dearly.  As it was her contribution was beyond price.  While Issy would also have had an eye on their daughter, Andrea – who was shortly to return from a drama training in London – joining us, he was most definitely unprepared for The Space ingurgitating his son, Nicholas.

From the beginning young Nic was an enthusiastic helper whenever he could be.  We regretfully watched him go off to Stellenbosch University, then take a teaching course. Later, wondering whether teaching was really what he wanted to do, he came to me (among others) for advice.  I shamelessly seduced him.  ‘Join us here, full-time.  Become a director/actor/stage manager/writer/whatever.’   I knew Theatre was his passion back then.  He gave up teaching and joined us.  Issy never forgave me.

Andy appeared from London and became a part of the Space Company, also until the end.

The Fine Dynasty was born.

Over the years Moyra assiduously – with the help of several hard-working and mostly unacknowledged volunteers – collected the money needed to cover our annual shortfall.  We had no subsidy except this.  Each year we earned 80-90% of the income needed to keep us above the breadline – just…  Moyra and her Space Club stalwarts collected the rest. When we moved from the Buiten Street original to 44 Long Street, it was Moyra and her faithfuls who collected the R20,000 needed. When my exhausted mother finally gave in under the strain of keeping the unruly and irresponsible motley from the brink of financial disaster, Moyra took over and became our Administrator.

When The Space collapsed, Rob Amato paid off our debts and took over the venue.  It became The People’s Space.  Knowing a good thing when he saw one, he begged Moyra to stay on.  She consented – Theatre now too deeply ingrained in her soul to give it up.  She outlasted Rob and kept The People’s Space running for several years, through the turbulence and desiccation of the climate that had killed off The Space. I saw the new theatre once.  Yvonne toured South Africa with the National Theatre production of Franca Rame/Dario Fo’s One Woman Plays. I was touring Company Stage Manager. Many of the same faces were still there. It was a very strange feeling. I felt almost as though I had deserted. Several of the old company members obviously felt the same way.

Moyra remained quietly, determinedly, at the new theatre’s centre.

2 responses

  1. Thanks Brian. I am loving these and I learn something new about the story of The Space with every read. Feeds right back in to the edit.

    February 17, 2015 at 8:01 am

  2. Brian, I am really enjoying this insight to what became an institution……shows what a jointly carried idea can become with so much dedication. We all benifitted enormously from all of the combined efforts and ideas. The creation of this meeting space will remain as an enriching memory of true Cape culture for us.

    March 9, 2015 at 3:44 pm

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