Herman Charles Bosman: The ladies and the man of the Groot Marico

2008-10-02 08:05

Brace yourself for a delicious rendition of the humorous writings and often outrageous life of Herman Charles Bosman - from a woman's point of view.

Bosman's Women - directed by Bets Basson and written and produced by Barbie Meyer - comes to Durban's Rhumbelow supper theatre between July 20 and 22. However, because this great little Glenwood venue is just that - small - booking ahead is more than essential.

Bosman's Women features Barbie Meyer and Lorna Burd, two accomplished actresses who stir the “bredie” that is Bosman's colourful life and equally witty and wonderful writings - and investigate whether you dare separate the two.

The play has been called witty, comical and thought-provoking, and is described as a true taste of the controversial author's works as well as a fascinating insight into his personal and colourful life from the perspective of the women who played central roles in both.

According to Durban theatre personality and co-owner of the Rhumbelow, Roland Stansell, this show centres on hilarious storytelling that will make you laugh and possibly cry. “These gals will delight and surprise you with the extraordinary life on one of South Africa's finest literary masters. Meyer and Burd shift effortlessly between reality and fiction, unfolding the truth about the women in his personal life as well as the elusive, whimsical women of his Bushveld stories. This account is a rare jewel.”

Stansell believes that director Bets Basson has excelled. “Ms Basson helped refine the script and helped the “rooinek” actresses master the distinctive flat accent of the Groot Marico. The result is lively and entertaining, and effectively captures the fine sense of the bushveld characters and - essential if one is to appreciate these particular stories - Bosman's irony.”

At the Grahamstown Festival, Bosman's Women was hailed as “a particularly powerful piece” and the Herald review read thus: “Meyer's eagerly awaited new play, Bosman's Women, earns sustained applause. It gives a comical, deliciously sweet taste of Bosman's gift as a storyteller, as well as a glimpse into the complex, controversial storyteller himself - Herman, the man.”

Unfortunately, many of KwaZulu-Natal's theatregoers may not have experienced Bosman's prolific storytelling or his quirky ironic tales. Bosman's life and writing exemplify the dilemmas that are often central to the lives of many white South Africans. He is an English speaker with an undeniable appreciation for the Boer way of life with its special ironies and undeniable richness, but an acute awareness of the many contradictions.

Bosman was both a prolific writer and a journalist who grew up in Johannesburg and graduated as a teacher from Wits University. From there, he was posted to the Groot Marico, where he covered himself with the magical quilt that wove together tales of the Great Trek and Boer war with the distinctive Afrikaaner farming life. All of this gelled in the tales of the Groot Marico and Bosman's inimitable character Oom Schalk Lourens.

But Bosman did not even get to the Groot Marico in the 1920s without controversy. He married his first wife, Vera Sawyer, and then left her behind in Johannesburg. Admittedly, he did travel to and fro. However, when taking a school holiday break in Johannesburg in 1926, he argued with his stepbrother and shot him dead with a rifle he'd bought from a Groot Marico farmer.

Bosman was sentenced to death, but his sentence was changed to 10 years with hard labour. In 1930, he was released on parole after serving half his sentence. His experiences on Death Row and in prison formed the basis for one of his best known books, Cold Stone Jug. His stint in prison also provided the opportunity for his first Oom Schalk Lourens story.

Bosman's marital shenanigans gathered momentum when he divorced and married for the second time. He and his wife Ella Manson became well known for their bohemian lifestyle and wild and witty parties that lasted into the wee hours.

Tickets are R60 and, because this is supper theatre in the truest sense, theatre goers are asked to bring along picnic baskets (laden with boerewors, pap, koeksusters and meltert, of course). There's a bar, but unfortunately no mampoer (the favourite tipple of the Groot Marico).

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