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WHEN it comes to Herman Charles Bosman, not only did he write prolifically, but he really led the life of an artist, making difficult choices, suffering for his art and doing things scriptwriters would never dream of in a million years.
While Bosman only had three books published in his lifetime, he has become an SA literary cult figure, with stories translated into five languages, and is the country’s most written-about author.
Ask director and writer Nicky Rebello, who has borrowed the actor David Butler’s collection of Bosman books.
Patrick Mynhardt’s portrayal of Oom Schalk created a very specific association in the minds of local audiences which the writer, Rebello and Butler have picked up where that actor’s legacy ends.
Rebello is slowly working through the books as he writes a film script about Bosman, but in the meantime, he’s on his fourth stage production – Bosman’s short play Street Woman, which features Rebello’s wife, Jennifer Steyn.
Rebello – who recently relocated to Cape Town from Joburg (after living just blocks away from Bosman’s Isipingo Street home where he shot and killed his stepbrother) – is well known for his many stage and TV performances.
But it is his writing that is starting to take centre stage, such as his screenplay for the film of Master Harold and the Boys and his work on adapting Bosman for the stage.
While Bosman’s writing was very articulate, the man himself wasn’t a good actor, so the one time he had to read his own stories on radio, it didn’t really work.
Still, Rebello describes the original writing as very theatrical: “It almost works better on stage than on the page.”
A careful reading of Bosman’s work gives much insight into who he was and what preoccupied him, says Rebello.
Bosman was considered a liberal and a sell-out by the Afrikaners for writing in English, which the duo explored in the theatre piece A Touch of Madness, set in Bosman’s Joburg years.
“When you read his stories you see the same themes come through over and over, and you get to see what preoccupied his mind as a person and artist.
“He revealed a lot of himself through his work, and it’s far more interesting to tell his story,” said Rebello.
Rebello directed Butler to an acclaimed performance as Bosman in A Teacher in the Bushveld three years ago in Grahamstown, and they return this year with the premiere of Jurie Steyn’s Post Office.
A Teacher in the Bushveld – which touches on Bosman’s short-lived career as a teacher in the Marico – will receive a short run at the Baxter in Cape Town before the duo make their way to Grahamstown.
Even though Bosman spent only six months in the Groot Marico, many of his short stories were set in the small conservative western Transvaal town, where he was sent as punishment for daubing Communist Party slogans on to the lecture room walls of the Teachers’ Training College in 1926.
The short stories contained in Jurie Steyn’s Post Office were first collected in a magazine called Weekly Opinion, which Bosman wrote in the late 1940s, sitting in his home in Joburg.
“It was almost as if he was writing for a soap or a radio series. He had these characters, these farmers used to gather in the post office, Jurie Steyn’s voorkamer, waiting for their milk cans and their post to arrive on the truck from Bekkersdal. One of the characters, At Naude, is the only farmer who reads the newspaper and listens to the radio and there’d be a topic introduced every week.
“What I’ve done is changed them for the purposes of the show, made them him, so it’s Bosman himself.”
The subjects were whatever was in the newspapers at that time, “so Bosman would know about it in Joburg and set it in Marico and imagine how those farmers would relate and then he told those stories, written from the perspective of the farmers.”
• A Teacher in the Bushveld plays at the Baxter until July 3. Jurie Steyn’s Post Office debuts at the National Arts Festival at the Hangar from July 6 to 8.