Rosalie van der Gucht

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Rosalie van der Gucht (1908-1985) was a hugely popular and influential speech teacher, lecturer and director who made an enormous contribution to South African theatre in the post- World War II period.


Born in Britain, Van der Gucht moved to South Africa in 1939 as part of a teacher exchange programme between Britain and South Africa and took up a position at the Grahamstown Training College, where she started a career in speech and drama education.

In 1942 she was offered and accepted a position as an assistant to Ruth Peffers, who had founded the Speech and Drama Department at UCT. She soon found herself directing many performances.

In 1946 she was promoted to head of the Speech and Drama Department at the UCT, a role she fulfilled till 1971, when she was succeeded by Robert Mohr. She continued to inspire and lead people, proposing changes in the department, such as a Performer’s Diploma and a chair for drama. Van der Gucht also began other projects, for her drama teaching was directly related to the syllabus and linked all the other arts.

Aside from teaching, she also tackled a number of similar projects in conjunction with George Feldsman, the headmaster at a little school in Chapel Steet. She was the driving force behind entertainment for children in the Cape and a founder of Theatre for Youth in Cape Town in 1956.

In the early 1950s she was invited to establish a branch of Evans and Tilley's Children's Theatre Incorporated in Cape Town. Van der Gucht however differed in policy from her northern colleagues, for she wanted to harness the educational possibilities to those of entertainment, promoting simplicity of presentation and participation by the audience, rather than passive observation of spectacle. Her productions (e.g. Arena Entertainment, Let's Make an Opera and Brian Way's Pinocchio, adapted by Gretel Mills) all made use of informal arena-style staging and audience participation which influenced the action of the play. These radically different ideas about the nature and practice of theatre for young audiences and complications in funding the Cape Town branch caused problems and led Van der Gucht to form an independent Organisation called Theatre for Youth in 1956, which utilized her students at the University of Cape Town rather than professional performers.

She retired from UCT in 1971, after which she concentrated on freelance professional directing. During this period she directed all Chekov’s major works for CAPAB and PACOFS. She also continued travelling until her death in 1985.

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

During her time at UCT she directed many plays at the Little Theatre and for other groups ranging from Greek tragedy to contemporary works.

She made her debut as an actress at the Little Theatre in Costa Couvara’s 1942 production of Arsenic and Old Lace with Geraldine Jordi. This production played to the highest accolades and won a sterling review in Ivor Jones’s column in the Cape Argus. She starred as Amanda in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams which was staged at the Little Theatre by Leonard Schach in 1948. Cast also included Rosemary Kirkcaldy.

In 1974 she directed Three's Company at The Space. She directed Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit for PACT in 1977.

For the Baxter Theatre she directed Delicate Balance, Beecham and The Importance of Being Oscar. She directed Aleksei Arbuzov’s Old-World starring Zoë Randall and John Carson at the Leonard Rayne Theatre in 1984.

Awards, etc

Van de Gucht was awarded numerous awards such as the AA Mutual Life for Best Director , the AA Vita Award and in 1970 the Three Leaf Award for her productions of Three Sisters and The Crucible.


The Importance of Being Oscar programme notes, 1984.

Inskip 1972,

Astbury 1979.

Morris 1989,

De Beer 1995,

Tucker, 1997.

E.J. Verwey (ed), New dictionary of South African biography. Pretoria, 1995, pp. 250-252 - See more at:

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