(Last Updated on : 24/01/2009)
Alfred Theatrical Company is a long-standing Parsi theatre company that built the Tivoli Theatre in Bombay. The first Alfred Club was founded in 1858, succeeded by Alfred Company in 1871. The first producer, Hirji Khambata, who was also a well-known actor-director of English plays, introduced the fine use of make-up. Famous early Alfred productions in Gujarati were Shahzada Shyabakhsh or 'Prince Shyabakhsh', Jahanbakhsh ane Gulrukhsar or 'Jahanbakhsh and Gulrukhsar' by Khurshedji Framroz (1847-1920), and Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew (all in 1871 -2). Their shows were replete with gorgeous dress, wondrous transformation scenes, and weird enchanting effects like fairy visions, sky flight, descent from clouds, and miraculous appearances. They seldom cared for depth in acting, but spent much on properties, successfully attracting large crowds. Dadabhai Mistri, an expert in trick scenes, flew in the sky on stage for the first time in 1871. But the company soon after closed down due to some reasons.
The dramatist Nanabhai Ranina (1832-1900) contacted actors of different faiths and revived the troupe in 1881. Somewhat controversially English actress Mary Fenton joined the company as well. In later days the company is co-owned by Ranina, Manekji Jivanji Master, Cowasji Khatao, and Muhammad All Ibrahim. Members who did not obey rules and regulations were compelled to leave from the theatre company named Alfred Theatrical Company. This healthy policy renovated Alfred in the right direction, and they toured Delhi and Lahore. Ranina's Nazan Shirin (1881), Bamanji Kabra's Bholi gul who was famous for 'Innocent Flower' in 1882, and versions of Alibaba and Alladin were superb and very popular. Under Khatao, the great comic actor and producer Sohrabji Oghra directed from 1886, training young boys of the traditional Nayak-Bhojak performing communities of north Gujarat like Amrit Nayak and developing the art of acting. In 1891, Ibrahim and Master started the New Alfred with Oghra, who disapproved of women on stage. Nayak took over from Oghra, Khatao died, and the original company finally amalgamated with Madan Theatres in 1927. Meanwhile in 1910-11 the New Alfred closed after its theatre burnt down, but was resurrected in 1914 and continued with great success, travelling all over India, till 1937. The popular playwrights Ahsan and Betab wrote for Alfred, followed by Agha Hashr Kashmiri and Radheshyam Kathavachak for New Alfred.