Robert Mohr

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Robert Wilhelm Mohr (1925-1984). Actor, dramatist, innovative director and enormously influential lecturer and head of the University of Cape Town Drama Department.


Born Robert Wilhelm Mohr in 1925,

He studied speech and drama under Joyce Burch, Marguerite de Villiers and Hermione Roux at the University of Stellenbosch’s Conservatoire of Music, and was appointed a speech teacher at the Conservatoire in 1948, taking over from Hermione Roux to head the speech and drama course. He went on to developed this into a fully fledged BA course, and also directed a number of major plays for the University. At the same time he continued doing freelance work as actor and director for the National Theatre Organisation and other companies.

In 1960 he left Stellenbosch to become a lecturer at the Department of Speech and Drama, University of Cape Town and was appointed head of the department in 1971, remaining there till his retirement in 198*, but maintaining his profile as one of the leading theatre directors in the country.

He died in 1984.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

As teacher and mentor

His influence as teacher was enormous and his graduate students have made their mark in all facets of the industry. As a free-lance professional writer and director Mohr likewise had a major influence on South African theatre, his interest in Eastern theatre and the work of Chekhov in particular influencing many directors in the heyday of the big state funded companies.

Besides his formal teaching, he also he worked with many student, amateur, semi-professional and professioal companies, offering courses and directing. In June 1971 he conducted the first Drama Course for the Department of Coloured Affairs in Bellville South. His community theatre directing endeavours included work with the EOAN Group (e.g. Behind the Yellow Door by Flora Stohr, at the Little Theatre in 1963 and in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1966).

As actor

He started out his theatrical career as a talented bilingual (Afrikaans and English) actor, appearing in numerous productions for NTO and for the Performing Arts Councils. He appeared in the Pirandello plays Die Narrekap, Sitroene uit Sicilië in the late 1940s.

In 1949 he had a role in The Man of Destiny and in 1951 in Die Koopman van Venesië.

Romeo en Jeanette (NTO 1960).

In 1963 he had a role in a Little Theatre Players production of Uncle Vanya.

As director/producer

He staged Christopher Fry's The Boy With A Cart as the first theatre-in-the-round production in South Africa for the University of Stellenbosch in 1951.

Among his major professional works were original texts for Dracula (19**), The Trials of St Joan (19**) and the hugely popular compilations of Melt Brink works – Ons Hou Konsert ("We have a concert" - 19**) and Ons Hou Weer Konsert ("We have another concert" - 19**).

He directed Vergelegen (K.A.T. 1956), Skrikkeljaar (NTO 1958), Mother Courage and her Children (Stellenbosch 1958), Julius Caesar (1960), Die Hemelbed, (1962), Waiting for Godot UCT 1965, Pa, Maak vir my 'n Vlieër Pa (1965), Opdrifsels, Die Paradysboot (1967), Richard III (KRUIK 1968/9), Cyrano de Bergerac (KRUIK 1969), Dracula (CAPAB 1976), Double Trouble, The Sport of my Mad Mother, It's a Boy!, Do you know the Milky Way?, Ritual 2378, 'Charley se Tante (circa 1965), Cockpit, Barry (1965), As You Like It (1977).

Other productions include J.B., Hadrian the Seventh, Pleasure and Repentance, The Government Inspector, The Maids (1964), Our Town/Ons Dorp, Mr Gotz's Elite Cafe, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds, The Fantasticks, The Good Soldier Svejk, El Grande de Coca Cola, Getting Out, Die Fisici, Verkiesing sonder politiek!, Brecht on Brecht, The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Hole, Offending the Audience, Street Scene, Talking Deafman, The Philanthropist, The Grass Harp, Barnstable, Kinkels innie Kabel, The Lesson (he also had a part), La Mandragola (1963), The Merchant of Venice, Rashomon, Salad Days, The Sport of My Mad Mother, Tartuffe, Drie Susters, Cook's Tour Special (1967), Uit Die Oude Doos (1967).

He directed Uncle Vanya on two occasions: once in the Afrikaans translation as Oom Wanja for PACT in 1967 and in 1982 in English at the Baxter Theatre.

Other productions for PACT include King Lear in 1969, Enemy!, Elizabeth I, The Tempest, Hamlet, Die Kersietuin (Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard).

He directed Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy in 1969 and in his own translation as Donkerwerk is Konkelwerk in 1980.

His production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with Etienne Puren, Louise Saint Claire, Michael Richard and Tobie Cronje was staged during the opening season of the Pretoria State Theatre in 1981.

At the time of his death in 1984 he was directing a production of The Nuns at the Little Theatre in Cape Town.

Besides the formal stage plays, he also directed works for opera, film and radio, and besides his work in South Africa, he was often invited to countries like Canada, the USA and Great Britain to serve as a guest director. For example he had done Flora Stohr’s play, Behind the Yellow Door, in South Africa, and was then invited to direct it at The University of Shreveport in Louisiana in 1966. Due to its success he was invited back again in 1968 to direct Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, a production for which for which he received a special award.

As translator, writer

Robert translated several plays into Afrikaans, including Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (directed by Mohr for CAPAB 1964, PACT 1980); Charley's Aunt as Charley se Tante (a CAPAB production directed by him, 1965); Chekov's Three Sisters as Drie Susters, produced by PACT in 1970 under Mohr's direction, Chekov's The Seagull as Die Seemeeu,.

His translation of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel as Die Effek van Gammastrale op Goudgeel Afrikaners was staged at the Little Theatre in 1973. He translated The Cherry Orchard as Die Kersietuin (PACT 1979) and Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer as Donkerwerk is Konkelwerk (CAPAB 1980).

Our Town/Ons Dorp is an adaptation by Robert Mohr in a bilingual version (English and Afrikaans) of Our Town (1938) by American playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder. Mohr produced the adapted play in 1959 for the University of Stellenbosch's Arena '59.

He also translated Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan der Weise into English as Nathan the Wise, (script held by NELM: [Collection: DALRO]: 2001. 41. 188).

He translated English composer Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas and did adaptations of plays such as the Japanese Chūshingura [1].

Awards, etc.

Drie Blare Award for Best Director for his direction of Richard III in Afrikaans and The Good Soldier Schweik for the year 1968. (Source: Teater SA, 1(3), 1969).

He was awarded an Honorary Pendant ("Erepennning") for his contribution to theatre by the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns in 19**.


Tucker, 1997.

Inskip, Donald P., 1972.

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

New Theatre Quarterly 75: Volume 19, Part 3 (Dec 2003) edited by Simon Trussler, Clive Barker[2]

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