J.C. Combrink (1838-1920) was a prominent businessman, director amateur actor, ballet master and leading figure in Dutch and English theatre in Cape Town during the second half of the 19th century. Also referred to as J. Combrink, Johan C. Combrink, Jno Combrink or Johan Combrink in some sources. (Du Toit, 1988 even has him as C.J. Combrink)
A remarkable man in many ways, Combrink was a successful printer and compositor by trade, but also renowned for his swimming exploits and courage (as life-saver for instance - he apparently prevented a number of people from drowning , and saved at least one person from a burning home). He made his home at Oudekraal on the Atlantic coast in the 1870s, probably setting up as a dairy farmer. He had a road built from Camps Bay to his home, where set up a resting station for individuals en route to Hout Bay. He would later become known as "the father of Camps Bay" for his various contributions to the community.
His contribution to South African theatre and performance
A staunch supporter of all kinds of theatre, he is mentioned by Jill Fletcher and F.C.L. Bosman as an instigator of theatrical events, a leader of companies and a director of both Dutch and English works. Though he initially worked in both English and Dutch, as we shall see, he gradually began to focus on Dutch and Afrikaans theatre, becoming the leading figure ("Bestuurder" i.e. "Manager") of Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst (originally founded in 1849, revived in 1859/60), reviving it once more in 1865. He was to be particularly influential after 1868, when he not only ran the society, but also performed for Melt Brink's Aurora from time to time, and for a period (1876-1883) also collaborated as performer and ballet master with De Eendracht, a company which had split from Aurora. He and Brink thus ended up dominating Dutch and Afrikaans theatre in Cape Town and environs for much of the second half of the 19th century. According to Bosman (1980: p.442) Combrink was actually became a semi-professional player in the 1870s, often working as director/performer for a fee, though his company members were unpaid amateurs.
He is first mentioned as a performer in 1855, when he must have been about 16-18 years old, when he participated in Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst's series of "Balaclava Benefit Performances" for soldiers participating in the Crimean war. He is later mentioned by Ludwig Binge (1969, p. 11) as a useful actor for Aurora, playing the lead opposite Melt Brink in the farce Niet of Graag ("Not at all or gladly") 5 September 1867 and repeating the role 3 October 1867 (billed as J. Combrink). When the Duke of Edinburgh visited Cape Town in this same year, he presented scenes from King John (Shakespeare) in honour of the occasion.
As ballet master and choreographer his name crops up a number of times in performances by De Eendracht, especially with children's performances. For example on 14 August 1877 a "Kinderballet" ("children's ballet") by Jno Combrink is listed as alternating with De Dronkaard, of De Boer Edelman as afterpiece to Adelaide van Beijeren; in December of the same year another such performance took place as interlude between Hariadan Barbarossa, Groot Admiraal Van Soliman II and Geveinsde Sotheid door Liefde (); on 24 July and 7 August another ballet performance accompanied the tragedy De Wraak eens Vaders (Van der Stempel) and finally at the Vaudeville Theatre on 5 July 1892 a ballet was offered with 16 children led by J. Combrink.
In 1865 he used the concept of benefit performances by Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst to raise funds for the Free State burghers who had suffered because of the Free State–Basotho Wars (1858-1868). Performed for this purpose in the Theatre Royal Cape Town on 29 August 1865 were Adelaide van Beyeren ( Loaisel Tréogate) and De Dronkaard, of De Boer Edelman (Von Kotzebue).
As manager he took the members of Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst to Stellenbosch for performances in 1868, and on a tour of the Western Cape in 1869 and in 1970 on a "Trip naar de Binnelanden" ("trip to the interior"). In this case he and eight other members travelled by ox-wagon, with a collapsible stage and a backdrop of the steam ship Great Eastern anchored in the new Duncan Docks (painted by C.J.M. Smith) and a repertoire of unnamed plays. Their final destination was the diamond fields at Kimberley.
His theatrical career and that of Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst apparently ended with another production of Het Geheim and De Sint Nicolaas Avond, of Het Bezoek door den Schoorsteen (Kup) in the Opera House, Cape Town on Tuesday 7 July 1896, after which he became quiet for the duration of the Boer War. However Bosman (1980: pp. 50) does refer to a "few productions", among others citing a rather scathing review by D.C. Boonzaier (1923:434), of what he saw as a sadly dated production of Het Geheim by a J. Combrink and Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst in 1910. This was also apparently the last production to take place in the Good Hope Theatre.
Ludwig Binge, 1969: pp. 9, 11
Jill Fletcher, 1994: pp. 77, 105-6, 109.
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