Tucked in a corner in the middle of Orange Street in Gardens lies a beautiful little cinema that will plunge you back into yesteryear. Steeped in history and love, the Labia Theatre has been an institution in Cape Town for decades. And it’s a lot more than its old-school cinema parts; it’s also the oldest Independent Art-Repertory Cinema in South Africa.
Originally an Italian Embassy ballroom, the theatre was opened by Princess Labia in May 1949 as a theatre for live performances. Eventually, it became a cinema that has been operating for four decades. A few years ago, the future of The Labia seemed unsure: with no money for digital projectors, it was almost shut down. But the people of Cape Town came to its aide and, today, The Labia is still going strong.
So whether you’re a local or a tourist, if you haven’t experienced The Labia yet, you’re missing out. Here are six reasons why you should book your ticket immediately.
1 Old school is cool
The first time my father entered The Labia, he was transported back in time to his years attending the bioscope as a boy. The look and feel of the theatre are straight from the scenes of a classic film: wooden panels, an old-school ticket booth, bench-style seating – the novelty of it is absolutely charming. People can’t help but take photographs of everything from the building to the tickets. There are even messages on the wall that were used in the past. In the modern age of 3D, 4D and other bells and whistles, it’s refreshing to watch a movie in as simple a setting as possible.
2 They screen art-house films
You won’t find big blockbusters here! The Labia screens independent movies, foreign films, historical cinema and other alternative and art circuit pictures. There are few cinemas in Cape Town who show these, so it’s a cinephile’s dream and a wonderful central spot in the city to get your film fix. That’s not to say you won’t see any popular films inside its hallowed halls. Oscar-nominated and critically acclaimed films are on circuit too but you’ll also be exposed to films, either from another country or genre, that you may not have known about.
3 The price is nice
We all know that movie prices are steep these days. So much so that some people have stopped going to the cinema entirely. Instead, they prefer streaming or waiting until the film is released on DVD or TV. But prices shouldn’t stand in the way of a good movie night out. Labia ticket prices are just R50 and those who frequent the theatre can buy 10 tickets for R400, essentially getting two free movies. The snacks at the concession stand are also priced lower than in most other cinema complexes.
4 Interesting film festivals
The Labia often plays host to a number of film festivals and screenings. Documentary, animation, foreign, short, student – the list of genres and themes is endless! While they do have a schedule for you to choose from ahead of time, it’s always a treat to arrive and see something completely unexpected.
5 You can drink in the cinema
Need we say more? It’s not necessary, but we will. Besides your usual soft drinks and coffee, the Labia coffee bar serves wine, beer and spirits that can be enjoyed in and around its premises. The coffee bar also offers home-made delicacies, including quiches and pastries, while you can purchase slush puppies and cocktails with either gin or vodka at the confectionary bar. Note: the coffee and confectionary bars only take cash or Snapscan.
6 Incredible weekly specials
By now you should be as in love with The Labia as we are but if you need more convincing, here goes nothing. The Labia has teamed up with a number of restaurants in the vicinity so you can enjoy dinner and a movie at a fraction of the cost. Each offer caters for two people so it makes for a great date night. Head to one of the participating restaurants, order The Labia special, then take your receipt to the theatre to enjoy a film. On Mondays and Tuesdays, get the two-for-one pasta for just R110 at Societi Bistro or head to Ocean Basket on Kloof for their Monday fish and chips deal. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays bags you two pizzas at Diva Café Ristorante for R110, or you can grab the R120 two burger and chips special at Knead on Kloof on Thursdays .
Photography Sean Dollery/HM Images