Butler breathes life into Bosman

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A TEACHER IN THE BUSHVELD

DIRECTOR: Nicky Rebello

CAST: David Butler

VENUE: Golden Arrow Theatre, Baxter Theatre

UNTIL: July 3

RATING: ****

Evocative and delightfully funny, this short one-man production is a magical gem of storytelling.

Based on the writing of Herman Charles Bosman – specifically his stories about the Groot Marico – this adaptation for the stage by Nicky Rebello is well paced and just long enough to be meaty, but not so short that you feel cheated.

Rebello keeps it light, allowing David Butler to breath life into a person we now only know about through what other people have written about him. Though Bosman may be one of the most written about South African authors, until Rebello and Butler started working together, audiences were more likely to encounter the work of Bosman than the man himself.

A Teacher in the Bushveld adds to what they started with A Touch of Madness, in that we see a bit more of Bosman. Still, this is Bosman as seen through his own writing, so we infer what kind of person he was by looking at how he responded to people and situations.

Butler presents us with Bosman the raconteur, recounting what it felt like to revisit the area many years after his first visit as a teacher.

Several different stories are strung together to create a cohesive picture.

The stories are highly entertaining, from the hilarious description of a school concert to the detailed sketch of how you could almost have believed there really was a grey feather on a very drunk amateur actor’s hat.

He shares memories and in the same way Bosman could hear the story on the wind, steeped in the fragrance of memories of long ago, these stories paint pictures of things, people and places long past. Reminiscences, like familiar snapshots, are dusted off and held up to the light, turned over and examined for tell-tale details and tiny clues.

Pale ghosts hover in the room as Butler manipulates the frugal set to suggest a tiny schoolroom, a well-frequented bar and a voorkamer turned post office.

This role suits Butler to a T, or is that the other way around? Butler gets a chance to play various characters, but it always comes back to Bosman, here presented as well-spoken, urbane and droll.

Butler talks non-stop, but never stumbles as he addresses his stories to the audience, yet never actually breaks that fourth wall, always maintaining the slight aloofness of a character who now only exists in our minds… or on the stage, if we’re lucky.

Now that they have created this character we eagerly await their next offering, Jurie Steyn’s Post Office, which debuts next month in Grahamstown.


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