In the mid 1950’s, after successful ballet performances mounted by Dulcie Howes (then principal of the University of Cape Town Ballet School) in the park, but outside the current theatre venue, Cecilia Sonnenberg and Rene Ahrenson, well-known South African actresses conceived the idea that the park in Wynberg would make an ideal open air theatre for an annual Shakespeare. Cecilia had contacts in the Cape Town City Council.
She and Rene eventually bullied the councillors into creating a permanent stage and raked auditorium for them to mount a production of The Taming of the Shrew. By a happy accident they had met Leslie French in England and persuaded him to come to Cape Town to direct and act in the play. He was a celebrated stage and film actor who had started as a boy in the Ben Greet Players and had gone on to star in Lillian Bayliss’ Old Vic productions and was famous for his performances in the open air theatre in Regent’s Park in London. Just before he was due to board the mail-boat for Cape Town, Leslie received a telegram from Cecilia and Rene telling him not to come because they had “cold feet”. Leslie’s response was typical. He sent a cable back: “Buy hot water bottles, I’m coming out”. That first production at Maynardville in 1956 of “The Taming of the Shrew” ran to packed houses for a month and thus started a legend.