Storytelling at its best

By Diane de Beer Time of article published May 10, 2011

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Actor David Butler first introduced his audience to his passion for Herman Charles Bosman with a show titled Touch of Madness, which explored the life of Bosman as a creative genius from Johannesburg.

As the title suggests, though, it also took a look at the darker side of this extraordinary artist’s life.

But, says Butler, his point of departure was always the genius of Bosman.

This time round, in another one-man show, A Teacher in the Bosveld (which opens for a run at the Market’s Laager Theatre from tonight until June 12), he explores the life of Bosman as a schoolteacher in the Groot Marico Bushveld.

Teaming up with old friend Nicky Rebelo once again after their tour de force with Touch of Madness, he again took his friend a stack of Bosman writing, dealing with his time in the Bushveld.

Part of what he wanted to do the first time round was to dispel the popular image of Bosman and look into the often dark soul of the man. This time round, his objectives were different. He wanted to take a look at the Bushveld stories of Bosman and the wonderful characters he created, but using his own words.

“Nicky probably has one sentence in the script that are his own words, the rest is all Bosman,” notes Butler, who regards him as our very own Shakespeare.

“He created a new form of writing which opened different avenues for local writers.”

Even though Bosman only taught in the Bushveld for six months, it was a rich source for what became his most famous and much loved stories.

“I wanted to continue my Bosman journey,” says Butler and once he discovered the writing, he knew that it was strong enough for another in what has become his Bosman series.

“His genius never fades. He was a great observer of the human condition and his stories are both ageless and timeless.”

Bosman, hailed as one of South Africa’s greatest literary artists,was schooled at Jeppe High School for Boys and Houghton College and then studied for a teaching diploma at Wits University and the Teachers Training College.

After graduating he was posted to Groot Marico in 1926, where he spent six months. While at home in Isipingo Street, Bellevue East, Johannesburg during the July school holidays, he shot and killed his half-brother David Russell, and was sentenced to be hanged. This was later commuted to 10 years’ hard labour, part of which he served at Pretoria Central Prison before being released on parole in August 1930.

Many years after being released from prison, Bosman made a return journey to Groot Marico to visit his old school, only to find the building in ruins. It’s intriguing that, despite only having spent six months in Groot Marico, most of Bosman’s short stories were set in this small, conservative North Western town.

His stories are filled with so much humour, despite his life of struggle, and when adapted for stage they prove to be highly entertaining as A Teacher in the Bushveld proves so magnificently.

A Touch of Madness received six FNB Vita regional theatre award nominations with Rebelo winning the best director award.

What Butler loves most about performing Bosman is the beautiful writing. “It’s the humour, the way he exposes the foibles of human beings,” he says.

He also enjoys that Bosman writes in a uniquely South African language. “I had a man congratulate me on my command of the Afrikaans language in a show where I only spoke one Afrikaans sentence, the rest was English. But because of the Bosman language, he thought he was listening to Afrikaans. It’s English with Afrikaans syntax.”

A Teacher in the Bushveld is storytelling at its best with Butler as Bosman, a character he has come to know and love. And with Rebelo there to guide him, it is an extraordinary experience. Don’t miss it.

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