The Lisbon Players

– Theatre in English since 1947 –

To read more about recent events at Estrela Hall, click here to read our 2016 Timeline of Recent Events.

Situated in the heart of the Estrela district, the Lisbon Players’ Theatre – Estrela Hall – is a welcoming and increasingly known theatre space which has been providing a varied repertoire of plays in English to Lisbon audiences for almost seventy years.

Its building, Estrela Hall, was built in 1906 on the order of St George’s Church on the corner of Rua da Estrela and Rua Saraiva de Carvalho. Its neighbours are the Jewish Cemetery, the now defunct British Hospital and the beautiful St George’s Anglican Church and the adjoining British Cemetery. The building was never much of a success as a church hall and went through several reincarnations – including, apparently and improbably  that of a roller-skating rink – and later as the venue for the showing of anti-Nazi propaganda films during the Second World War when the building was commandeered by the British Embassy.  It was converted into a theatre with the establishment of The Lisbon Players in 1947.  Major architectural changes were undertaken by architect Manuel Igrejas in 1963 and the building you see now with its 99-seat auditorium, its wide, slightly raked stage and its large foyer and dressing rooms under the stage is essentially the result of that refurbishment. Its extensive wardrobe is situated at the other side of its courtyard with access from the stage fire door.

In its long and varied existence it has had several exciting moments: in 1962, as the first Lisbon theatre to put on an English-language production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, it had a visit from a couple of PIDE agents who, after watching part of a dress rehearsal in total incomprehension, decided that as it was in an idioma estrangeiro it couldn’t constitute much of a threat to the regime and let the performance go ahead!

It was also used by the prestigious Companhia Amélia Rey Colaço/Robles Monteiro when its home, the Teatro Dona Maria II on the Rossio, burnt down on the first night of M**beth in 1964.

In its early years the group had a distinctly British flavour, in terms of the performers and the audience; expatriates entertaining expatriates. However, demographic and social changes over the past thirty years or so have meant that the company has had to reinvent itself in many ways, though it retains its original brief of performing in the English language. Its audience and its membership have become far more international, and Portuguese make up a large part of its audience as well as a sizeable proportion of performers and back-stage staff. Alain Oulman, Amália Rodrigues’ composer and friend directed many productions at Estrela Hall in the 1960s and 70s (the theatre features in Nicholas Oulman’s 2009 film Com que Voz) and over the years many well-known Portuguese performers have appeared on its stage. It recognized both as a good training ground for people who want to go on to make a career in the performing arts and as a valuable educational resource for schools and universities.

As far as the repertoire goes, the group aims at a mix of classics, modern plays, new work and the occasional musical show. Amongst playwrights performed over the past years are Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Chekhov, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, Oliver Goldsmith, Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Sophocles, David Mamet, David Edgar, Ronald Harwood,  Steven Berkoff, Alan Bennett, Athol Fugard, Brendan Behan, Dacia Maraini, Bernard Shaw and Henry Fielding (whose grave lies a stone’s throw from the theatre in the British Cemetery). It has also been responsible for some important Portuguese premières including its production of the original 1728 version of  John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, the radical musical about the First World War Oh What a Lovely War, the musical Cabaret, The Hostage, Journey’s End and the first English language production of Fernando Pessoa’s The Mariner. It is also believed that its 1948 production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was the first ever in Portugal! In recent years it has included new writing in its repertoire including plays by António Carlos Andrade, Rafaela Lacerda, Dan Davies, Blind Eye by Suzannah Finzi, Hero of my Own Life by Genevieve Grace and Doctor Feelgood by Armando Nascimento Rosa. Short plays by aspiring new writers have also frequently been included in our short play seasons.

While the Lisbon Players generally performs in its home, the Estrela Hall, it does occasionally venture further afield: in 1992 Waiting For Godot went to Teatro Garcia Resende in Évora, in 1994 Ophelinha, a new play based on the relationship between Fernando Pessoa and Ophelia Queirós was invited to the newly opened Centro Cultural de Belém and in 1993 it mounted a highly successful open-air production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Parque de Palmela in Cascais.  Death and the Maiden and Talking Heads went to the Quinta do Paço Arts Centre in the Algarve, in 2012 Doctor Feelgood was invited to the Theatro Circo in Braga and in 2014 the Lisbon Players was invited to return to the CCB with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Recent developments have included a much needed three phase improvement plan over the past four years which has resulted in installing a fire detection system, installing fire doors, refurbishing the seats, reorganizing the foyer, new bathrooms and kitchen (including a cast bathroom and shower) and painting the outside of the building.

Artistic activity is at an all-time high with a now regular output of six major productions a year running for nine weeks each between October and June. When time and space permit we host poetry readings, concerts, exhibitions, members’ evenings and continue with our valuable collaboration with the Irish Embassy and Association which has led to several Irish-linked special events including Bloomsday on the 16th of June every year.

Over the past few years there has been a certain question mark over the Lisbon Players’ continuation in its home, Estrela Hall. It is the strongest conviction of our members, audiences and supporters that we should continue in the theatre that we have, over the years, with our labour and our fund-raising, created and made into the flourishing cultural institution and meeting place of cultures that it is today. To this end we are going ahead with our ongoing refurbishment plan for the comfort of our audiences and for the increasing improvement and modernization of our backstage facilities.

In 2013, in recognition of our long years of work as an inclusive cultural organization the Câmara Municipal de Lisboa decreed in plenary session the elevado interesse cultural dos Lisbon Players à cidade de Lisboa and since then our work has been incorporated into the month-long June Festas da Cidade through EGEAC

The Lisbon Players has a permanent membership of around 200 and up to 40 people actively involved in the work at any time. The active members include many trained theatre professionals as well as people from other backgrounds and others who are new to theatre work. Besides putting on productions there are also people involved in finance, publicity and marketing, maintenance, front-of-house and bar management, and  Box Office.

The company is a non profit organization and no-one is paid for their work. The Lisbon Players operates with no subsidy or financial support of any kind. Its only revenue is from ticket sales. It is an open company and welcomes people of all backgrounds, nationalities, ages and degrees of experience to audition for shows, to work backstage and front-of-house and to be part of our audience.

In order for this vital cultural resource to continue enriching the theatrical life of Lisbon for another seventy years, The Lisbon Players depends upon your support as participants, as volunteers, as artists, as technicians and as audience members so the company can continue its important work of entertaining, educating and involving new participants and new theatre audiences of all nationalities and ages.

Jonathan Weightman