History: The Campbell Theatre, Kadoma

In 1949 a young man from the UK named Ken Buchanan arrived in Gatooma and began working at Films of Africa, a film studio based on a farm just outside the town.  He also ran a photographic shop known as Focus Ltd located on Baker Street in Gatooma.

In June 1949 a revue called “Perchance to Scream” was presented in the Grand Hotel in conjunction with the Gatooma Dramatic and Musical Society.  This was a takeoff of Ivor Novello’s musical “Perchance to Dream”.

In December that year the Gatooma Follies presented Gatooma’s first pantomime, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” in the Grand Hotel. It was the first of what would be seventy consecutive annual pantomimes to be presented in the town. Last year “Alice in Mashonaland” was presented in the Campbell Theatre.


For many years, under the leadership of Ken Buchanan, the Grand Hotel was home to the Gatooma Follies, until the Gatooma Municipality decreed that the hotel dining room was unsafe and should be demolished.  The name Gatooma Follies was suggested by dancing teacher Gertie Chimowitz. The theatre-going public had seen numerous pantomimes, musical revues and dramatic plays performed there. In 1958, on the prompting of Ken Buchanan, the Gatooma Theatre and Social Centre was formed at a meeting held on the old Royalty Theatre, a cinema which opened its doors in 1919.

Buchanan Campbell Theatre © Benny Leon

It was soon after this when asked for financial assistance that Colin John Campbell offered to donate two dollars for every dollar raised by the public. Fetes, raffles and stage shows were organized and a sum of just over a thousand dollars was collected.

When the theatre opened on 10th December 1960, it comprised of just the auditorium, the stage, proscenium arch and several toilets.  The opening production was the queen of pantomimes “Cinderella”.  Scaffolding draped with tarpaulins served as dressing rooms.  I remember David Burke and David Hockaday as the two ugly sisters.  Ken Buchanan was the producer.  It rained cats and dogs that night!

With dignitaries present from the municipality Colin John Campbell unveiled the stone in the foyer commemorating the occasion.
The theatre remained in its incomplete state for a few more years until the second stage of John Mack’s will came into effect.

Portrait of the legendary John Mack © Benny Leon

John Mack was a true pioneer of Gatooma. In 1898 John Mack pegged the Golden Valley Mine about twelve miles north of Gatooma, and registered it with the BSA Company. After some adventures John Mack began mining in earnest in 1901.

The railway line from Salisbury to Bulawayo had been completed in 1901 and in 1906 a resourceful trader named Godwin erected two huts close to the railway line at or near the present day railway station. This was the germ of the town of Gatooma.  John Mack was one of his first customers. He was also instrumental in talking the railway authorities to open a station there.

The legend goes that at first there was difficulty in receiving supplies from passing trains until a few fires were lit on the track stopping trains.

John Mack died in 1955 and in his will left all the proceeds of the mine to his wife.  When she died in 1958 the second part of his will came into effect.  The John Mack Trust nominated fifteen beneficiaries amongst which was the Gatooma Theatre and Social Centre.

Commemorative stone at John Mack Hall © Benny Leon

Now that funds were available the theatre was completed and the John Mack Hall added onto the complex.  Ken Buchanan completed the Gatooma Theatre and Social Centre as determined in 1958 and left Gatooma for Scotland in 1985.

Thanks to the foresight and generosity of three Scotsmen Kadoma still has a flourishing theatre and social centre.  The beneficiaries of the John Mack Trust after a lapse of some years are still receiving monies from the mine.

Campbell Theatre
Kadoma’s Campbell Theatre, 2018 © Benny Leon


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