Set in a small South African village, the characters are representatives of religious, secular and political power, and the playwright’s exploration of their relationship with the young virgin, constitutes a virulent attack on social hypocrisy.
The original text
While living in Paris in 1954 Bartho Smit had a friend, a beautiful, unmarried, young girl who fell pregnant and, not being able to face the shame, drowned herself in the Seine. This incident, together with the strong impression made on Smit by the novella Sous le soleil de Satan ("Under the Sun of Satan") by French author Georges Bernanos , was the inspiration for writing the play Putsonderwater.
Translations and adaptations
Translated into English by Antony Dawes under the title Well-Without-Water, or The Virgin and the Vultures.
Performance history in South Africa
In 1961 Putsonderwater was submitted as possible opening piece for the newly built Johannesburg Civic Theatre, but was rejected because somebody had noted that the father of the young white girl's illegitimate child was a young "Coloured" man. Denied performance in South Africa for many years, it was first performed to acclaim by Volksteater Vertikaal in Ghent in 1968 and toured Belgium for a year.
1969: The PACOFS experimental theatre group staged a brief and little publicised workshop production for an invited audience in the Ou Presidensie Teater (“Old Presidency Theatre”) in Bloemfontein, directed by Henk Hugo, with a cast including Neels Coetzee, George Barnes and Rina la Grange. This was the first professional production of Putsonderwater.
1970: The playwright was invited by CAPAB to direct a production of Putsonderwater in Cape Town. A few days before rehearsals were scheduled to start the production was cancelled by the Administrator of the Cape Province, in his capacity as chairman of the board of CAPAB.
1981: Twenty years after it was written the first fully professional public production in South Africa was done during the opening season of the State Theatre in Pretoria. It was staged by PACT in the State Theatre Arena and directed by Louis van Niekerk, with Iza Trengove (Maria), Sam Marais (Asgat), Dan Welman (Jan Alleman), Don Lamprecht (Dominee), Louw Verwey (Sersant), Franz Marx (Dokter) and Jacques Loots (Koster). Decor by Johan Badenhorst and costumes by Bronwen Lovegrove and Paddy Norval.
Teater SA, 1(2), 1968.
Theare programme held by NELM (Rhodes production): [Collection: Rhodes University. Drama Department]: 2011. 370. 2. 10.
PACT theatre programme, 1981.
PACT pamphlet, July 1981
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