Ebley's Portable Theatre
The Ebley Theatre was a wooden shuttered structure with a canvas roof and collapsible, removable seats which was transported from town to town by horse drawn wagons. Ebley’s Theatre visited many parts of Wales including Dowlais (1883), Maesteg (1896) and Bridgend (1906), where the theatre was assembled in the market place, and Wrexham, Hay, Pontycymer, Senghenydd and Caerphilly. The whole family took part in the performances and the audience was treated to 3 hours of entertainment for threepence. The actors and actresses had other duties other than simply performing. The men had to assemble and dismantle the theatre, according to strict rules, in each location whilst the women repaired costumes and drapes. The theatre stayed in a town for between two and six months performing a different play every night. Those performing in the show stayed in local lodgings but Mr Ebley’s accommodation consisted of a sleeping van and living van which travelled with him. The vans were finished with figured glass, polished wood and brasswork and as the theatre was electric powered, a gas engine generator would also be towed along.
To perform in a town the Ebleys required a license from the local magistrates for which they needed supporting references regarding their moral character. The chapels often regarded the Portable Theatre as a bad influence and threatened members with excommunication if they attended a performance. (Edward) Ted Ebley, however, refused to put up with bad behaviour and it was reported in one performance that he left the stage to bang the heads of two brawlers together and then returned to his part in the play!
Performances were often given in aid of a local patron’s chosen charity thus promoting the Theatre owner as being of a charitable disposition. The patron would attend the opening night and be presented with a pure silk handbill advertising the current play.
As with many theatres The First World War brought an end to Travelling Theatre. Ebley’s Olympic Theatre was in Aberkenfig at the outbreak of war and all the male members of the cast left to join the war. Edward (Ted) Ebley and his son were left to dismantle the Theatre alone. The Theatre was then towed to Cwmavon where it was rented to the Caerau Coliseum Company and opened as a cinema. In 1916 it closed and then reopened under the Ebley name. In 1927 the Olympic Cinema opened in Depot Road showing silent films and converted to sound in 1932. In 1970 it became The Olympic Bingo Hall and in 1980 Edward (Ted) Ebley sold the building. Thus ended a fascinating family link with a long gone form of entertainment.