André Huguenet (1906- June 15, 1961)  (stage name of Gert Borstlap) was one of the premier South African performers of the 20th century - a bilingual actor, director, theatre manager and journalist.
The early years
Born Gerhardus Petrus (Gert) Borstlap in Bloemfontein, attended the Preparatory Technical School (where he began with elecution under Dr Thos. Blok and music) and later Grey College. A precocious student he gained a reputation for his fine elocution work under the guidance of *** and ** .
Discovery by Paul de Groot
Spotted by Paul de Groot (who also renamed him), he later joined the Paul de Groot Toneelgeselskap ("Theatre Company") founded by De Groot and Hendrik Hanekom in July 1926 as juvenile lead. Played in works such as Huis Toe (Südermann - 1926), As Mans Huishou (Jan van Ees - 1927), Gerieflike Huwelik (Dumas snr - 1927), Besigheid is Besigheid, Haar Tweede Man, Geleende Geld, Die Poppehuis. De Groot also asked him to do Rosekrans, but due to his mounting fame, declined the part. Taking three years off he worked as a reporter for Die Vaderland, an Afrikaans newspaper in Pretoria (having had the experience of a few months as a reporter at The Friend in Bloemfontein, while "resting" in 1927).
Huguenet takes over the Paul de Groot Geselskap
When De Groot left the country, Huguenet took over the leadership of De Groot’s company. They started with the Dutch play, Dolle Hans, which he translated it into Afrikaans and directed, with himself, Rena la Roche, Henri van Wyk, Charles Kock and Leon Cloete. The great depression of 1929 struck this company’s pioneering work quite severely and the company was disbanded due to insufficient financial support.
Die André Huguenet Geselskap ("The André Huguenet Company")
Using Bethlehem as his base, Huguenet assembled a new cast including Lydia Lindeque, Johan Piek, Dewald van der Merwe, Bettie Reitz and Ena du Toit to tour with Ampie by Jochem van Bruggen, under the direction of Stephanie Fauré. Huguenet was clearly focusing on creating a form of Volksteater ("Folk Theatre") during the great depression and other plays in this period included Genoveva, aimed specifically at the older rural audiences, Johannes van Wyk, Die Swart Hand (a detective play), Ek het 'n man vermoor and Haar Egskeiding. With his touring company, now called the André Huguenet Geselskap (Company), he went on to tour the country with Afrikaans versions of classic plays for more than 30 years. With the Huguenet’s first decade complete his further success for him and his company with Haar Egskeiding was eminent. African Theatres offered them a residency and the company was sponsored by this Organisation to play in all the main sentras in South Africa. The company went from a rural touring company to one that is centered in Johannesburg. With a more educated audience Huguenet was able to do Somerset Maugham’s The Sacred Flame (as Die Heilige Vlam). In 1937 he left for London where he joined the British Drama League, a move which enabled him to undertake a journey to the U.S.S.R., where he meets Stanislavsky and sees Leo Tolstoy’s house. On his return, after another rural tour, he worked with Leontine Sagan on Night Must Fall and learnt much about English dialect and speech forms. Huguenet also directed the Johannesburg Repertory Players in Eugene O'Neill’s Anna Christie (the first time this text was staged in South Africa). Then he took to the road again and among the many plays he did over the years to follow were Absalom my Seun!, Genoveva, Ek het 'n man vermoor, Haar Egskeiding, By die ou Meulstroom, Oom Bart, Die Kwaksalwer, As die mure kan praat, Is jy 'n bokryer?, Helshoogte (Wuthering Heights), Die Nagtegaal, Geleende Vere, and Galgtou ("Noose"). In 1947 he played the lead in the celebrated Afrikaans version of Hamlet, under the auspices of African Theatres. Always involved in attempts to professionalise theatre. (For example in 1936 he was on the first executive of the shortlived Toneelbond founded by the F.A.K. and an advisor to its Toneelburo in 1937).
The NTO Years
Following the success of Hamlet, Huguenet, Anna Neethling-Pohl and others handed an appeal to the Administrator of the Transvaal, calling for the founding of a state theatre. This led to the Eybers Commission and the founding of the National Theatre Organisation (NTO) in 1948, with P.P.B. Breytenbach as first chairman. Huguenet was a founder member and member of the board of control. In 1947 he toured the country with André Huguenet and Leontine Sagan artistic advisors, to address meetings and audition players. He went on to work with them for many years, and in his period with them he did inter alia Altyd My Liefste (1947/8), Dear Brutus (1948), Nag het die Wind Gebring (1948/49), An Inspector Calls (1948/49), Minnaar onder die Wapen (Arms and the Man, 1949), Die Indringer (The Outsider, 1949), The Guardsman (1949), The Glass Menagerie (??* 1949), Macbeth (in Afrikaans, 1950), Hassan (1950 - which, directed by Basil Dean, also went to London for the Empire Exhibition? Festival in **), , **, **, ***.
Towards the end of the 1950s his career went into a decline - he even managed the Pigalle Cinema on the West/East rand for a while - and most humiliatingly, was expected to audition for parts. He did do some work for amateur groups (e.g. King Lear for the Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival in 1960) and on occasion acted as adjudicator for the FATSSA Play Festival.
In the 1960s he made a few more appeareances for NTO, in * and his last (and for many his best) performance, the 1961 production of The Prisoner. Though his grandiose style was not suited to the medium, he also made a few films, the most notable being the lead role in the epic Hans die Skipper, in which he worked with the young Gert van den Bergh. Other films were Inspan and Paul Kruger. Indications are that one of his recurring bouts of pessimism about his career and theatre in general, and his battle with depression, led to his apparently taking his own life at the home of his sister in Bloemfontein on 15 June 1962 at the age of 56.
An autodidact with a wide-ranging knowledge of theatre and performance, talented, a meticulous craftsman, charismatic, autocratic and self-centered, with a creative flair for publicity, Huguenet epitomised Afrikaans theatre for both performers and the general public for much of the twentieth century.
During the course of his career he launched the careers of numerous later stars of the stage, including Siegfried Mynhardt, Patrick Mynhardt, Lydia Lindeque, Rena la Roche, Henri van Wyk, Hermien Dommisse, ***.
His autobiography, entitled Applous! Die Kronieke van 'n Toneelspeler ("Applause! The Chronicles of an Actor"), was published by HAUM in 1950. A collections of essays and entitled Huguenet, celebrating his career, was also edited by ** and published by ** in 196*.
HUGUENET, André. Famous Afrikaans actor. Spent his whole life trying to encourage South Africans to watch theatre. Played the Prince of Denmark in an Afrikaans production of Hamlet in 1947. Siegfried Mynhardt directed and it was staged at His Majesty's Theatre. Also Starring Michal Grobbelaar as Marcellus. Acted opposite Berdine Grünewald in Die Kwaksalwer in 1939 in the Empire Theatre, Johannesburg. Berdine Grünewald and Pierre de Wet starred in an Afrikaans version of Gaslight for him in 1942. Member of Breytenbach's NTO Board of Control. Together with Leontine Sagan. Later additions to the board included Marda Vanne and Elizabeth Sneddon. He was the Company Manager and resident mentor of the NTO in its early days. He toured with this company which included Siegfried Mynhardt, Leon Gluckman, Frank Wise, Lorna Cowell, Vivienne Drummond, Mathilde Hanekom and Enone van den Bergh throughout 1948 with various productions. Starred in Macbeth in Afrikaans, which was directed by Gwen ffrangçon-Davies in 1950 for the National Theatre.. It was staged at His Majesty's Theatre and also starred Anna Neethling-Pohl. Starred in James Elroy Flecker’s Hassan which was staged by the National Theatre in 1950. It was directed by Basil Dean. He did several versions of the classic Greek Tragedy Oedipus Rex over the years (e.g. 1952, 1955, 1956), in both English and Afrikaans. He starred in Molière’s Tartuffe in 1952. It was directed by Leon Gluckman for the Reps. He starred in a celebrity concert in aid of the National Theatre Development Fund at the Reps in 1954. It was staged by The National Theatre and also starred Dawie Couzyn, Margaret Inglis and Taubie Kushlick, and came through the offices of Breytenbach. He made his final appearance in The Prisoner for the National Theatre at the Alexander Theatre in 1961, and passed away later the same year. **** () [TH, FdV]
HUGUENET, André, Lydia Lindeque, Nege produksies met Andre Huguenet: Genoveva, Die Swart Hand & Ampie. Oedipus Tyrannus by Sophocles, Sally Carrol. Helen Mann, King Lear with André Huguenet, Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival, 1960. He died on June 15, 1961, aged 55.
Sunday Tribune, February 11, 1962.
Du Toit, 1988;
A photocopy of the front cover of the programme for the production Koning Oidipus by African Consolidated Theatres starring André Huguenet and Taubie Kushlick (Courtesy of Jill Fletcher who had used it as research material for her own play André Huguenet – Meneer!.)
Go to the ESAT Bibliography
Return to South African Theatre Personalities
Return to The ESAT Entries
Return to Main Page