The seldom used full title was: Putsonderwater. Variasies op 'n tema van Bernanos ("Putsonderwater. Variations on a theme from Bernanos")
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 (In a frontispiece to the published play, Smit provides a subtitle: "Variasies op 'n tema van Bernanos", i.e. "variations on a theme from Bernanos") .
On a note on the page following the title page of the published text, Smit describes the play as "an attempt to portray Western man's crisis of belief", adding that anyone who finds an attack on the church or on Christianity on this, is interpreting it wrongly. 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.
He submitted the play to NTO as possible opening piece for the newly built Johannesburg Civic Theatre, but it was rejected by the management because somebody had noted that the father of the young white girl's illegitimate child was a young "Coloured" man. In view of this the play was afterwards also denied performance in other parts of South Africa for many years.
The text was published by Afrikaanse Pers-boekhandel in 1962 and the play first performed by Volksteater Vertikaal in Ghent in 1968.
Translations and adaptations
Translated into English by Antony Dawes under the title Well-Without-Water, or The Virgin and the Vultures. Published as a typed playscript by DALRO, Johannesburg, in 1970.
Performance history in South Africa
1968: First performed to acclaim by Volksteater Vertikaal in Ghent in 1968, touring 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 1969): [Collection: Rhodes University. Drama Department]: 2011. 370. 2. 10.
PACT theatre programme, 1981.
PACT pamphlet, July 1981
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