Behind the Curtain

John Badenhorst has worked as a theatre director since he was an English and Drama student at Rhodes University, Grahamstown; thereafter in Cape Town, Oranjemund, Rome, Bloemfontein, London and Johannesburg.   He has engaged with actors at student level, as amateurs, as professionals and most especially at the level of community theatre.   In conjunction with the aims of Make Peace Not War, he will be presenting theatrical works that relate to the theme of war, and peace, and combining the productions with the education and counselling of warring groups   Mother Courage and her children (Bertolt Brecht) is the first theatrical presentation to allied with MPNW, and is scheduled for presentation at Harold Cressy High School (Cape Town) in February, 2015.   A selection of images from seminal productions directed by John Badenhorst follow, as well as information on his film (1999), Slavery of Love, Puccini’s opera Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) in Bloemfontein, his recent production of his own play, “Hillbrow”, and other events; theatrical and non-theatrical.

“Slavery of Love” poster

Slavery of Love The film told a fictional story, set mostly at the Cape of Good Hope, in 1714, but was based on the actual conditions existing between slaves and settlers at that time. The film was completed in 1999, shown on the SABC and at various film festivals, as well as being available for sale, throughout Africa, via the Film Resource Unit (FRU). At the 1999 Sithengi Film Festival in Cape Town, John Badenhorst was awarded the award for Best Newcomer Director and the NTVA (Western Cape) awarded a certificate of excellence to the cinematographer, Sven Vosloo. John was the scriptwriter, director and co-producer of the film. A number of eminent historians were consulted during the research, ranging from Professor Nigel Warden, to the late Dr Achmat Davids. The film was praised by several experts for its accuracy, and its presentation of a period in South African history which had previously not been documented on screen. Professor Warden made it recommended viewing for first-year students at both the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape. Several well-known South African actors (such as Chantelle Stander and Joanie Combrink) played leading roles in Slavery of Love, but many of the other members of the cast made their acting débuts in the film (notably Aldrin Hendrickse and Mark Bilbe). Zorina Malick, who excelled in the pivotal role of the slave May-Tahira, had first worked with the director in 1977, when he directed her at Harold Cressy High School, as Grusha in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. “I set out to tell an entertaining story, to document the real relationship between slaves and settlers in the early days of the Cape of Good Hope, but also to show how actions taken hundreds of years before laid the foundations for the progressive deterioration of race relations in South Africa, between persons of colour and the White community. Going back to the root causes is always invaluable in understanding the course of any conflict.” JB

The nuns of “Sister Angelica”

Sister Angelica Presented at the Civic Theatre in Bloemfontein, in 1986, John Badenhorst’s production of Puccini’s opera Sister Angelica (in his own new translation from the Italian) brought together for the first time  on stage, in the Orange Free State, white, black and “coloured” singers.   Graduates of the music department of the University of the Orange Free State joined a choir from the Anglican Church in the “Coloured” township and young women from the Kagisanong Training College Choir.   The production brought into harmonious and cross-cultural contact women who never before had had the opportunity of mixing in such a context and was well-supported in performance by a cross-section of the community.   South African soprano Chenielle Jefferies made her operatic début in the title role. “Because I would have white, black and brown nuns together on stage, in the same convent, which was not credible in the original setting, I moved the action from medieval Florence to the Roma Convent in Lesotho, in the Fifties, with only very slight adjustments in my new English translation of the Italian original. Angelica and her aunt, the Princess, became refugees from Fascist Italy, who had moved to Cape Town, where Angelica had a relationship with the Coloured gardener.   I believe strongly that opera has to be believable and speak not only to the cast, but to the modern audience. But that said, it has to remain true to the music, the text and the composer’s intention.  The greatest achievement of this production was the ease with which women from different race groups in apartheid South Africa relaxed and became friends, when they worked together in the opera.”  JB

The poster for the Wits Theatre production

Hillbrow First presented at The Courtyard Theatre, London, in 2004, and most recently at the Wits University Theatre, Johannesburg (March 2014), Hillbrow is set in the Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow, in 1958, as the apartheid government tightens its grip on people of colour.   A multi-racial group of outsiders meets and briefly enjoys a respite from the challenges of their lives, when Maria’s tearoom is closed to the public. “It was important to show that even in the midst of such turbulent times, the human spirit can bring people of disparate backgrounds together, even if only for a while.  

I also needed to remind people, especially Whites, what really went on in the days before our democracy was born in 1994, and how badly we did in fact treat many of our fellow South Africans.”  JB


Written and directed by John Badenhorst: The WITS Theatre and WITS School of ARTS



Theatrical CV | John Badenhorst

Academic qualifications

B.A. Degree, Rhodes University, major subjects English and Speech & Drama Certificato di frequenza from Accademia Nazionale D’Arte Drammatica, Silvio D’Amico, Rome (on scholarship from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) L.T.C.L. (Trinity College) T.L.S.D. (UNISA).

Practical Experience (1968 to present)

Putsonderwater (Rhodes, Bartho Smit, SA première, originated role of Asgat) Hippolytus (Rhodes, dance drama, original music by Albert Honey, choreographer and danced title role) Dr Faustus, The Silent Woman (Rhodes, various roles) Othello Slegs Blankes (Cape Town, Space Theatre) The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Harold Cressy High School, Cape Town, director and designer) Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (Harold Cressy at People’s Space Theatre, choreographer and staged musical numbers) R&J (Community Arts Project, Shakespeare’s play presented with six actors and original music, director and designer) Antigone (Community Arts Project, Anouilh, director and designer) Oklahoma (Oranjemund, local players, director and designer) Camelot (Oranjemund, local players, director and designer and played Arthur) The Wizard of Oz (Oranjemund Primary School, director and designer) The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (Rome, Teatro La Scaletta, Tenessee Williams, director) Impresiones: Gala for Danza Lorca (Cape Town, Baxter Concert Hall, organiser) Hamlet (Cape Town, Joseph Stone Theatre, Eoan Group, director and co-designer) Alice! (Cape Town, People’s Space Theatre, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, original music by David Nissen, scriptwriter and director) Salomé (People’s Space, Oscar Wilde, director) Godspell (People’s Space, director, designer and played John/Judas) Bent (People’s Space, Martin Sherman, SA première, director and played Greta) Edward II (People’s Space, Marlowe, director) Cachiporra! (People’s Space, Lorca, adaptation of Los Titeres de Cachiporra, with flamenco, director) Cachiporra! (Stellenbosch, Oude Libertas Amphitheatre, director.

Professional début of protégée Shaleen Surtie-Ruchards) Daniel Jazz (Harold Cressy High School, director) Sister Angelica (Bloemfontein, Civic Theatre, Puccini, English translation, director and designer. First fully non-racial production staged in the OFS; 1986) Excelsior Gala: Year of the Disabled (Bloemfontein, Sand du Plessis Theatre, director, many leading artists, disabled and able, ranging from Margaret Singana to Amanda Strydom) Why Couture/Hoekom Couture? (Johannesburg, documentary for M-NET, devised, produced and co-directed with Mark Williams) The M-NET All Africa Film Awards 1994 (Johannesburg, Gallagher Estate, for M-NET, live transmission, stage director, included commissioning of Flamenco de Africa, global first, fusion of African dance and flamenco; Mavis Becker, Sibongile Khumalo and Chenielle Jefferies) The M-NET All Africa Film Awards 1995 (Johannesburg, Gallagher Estate, for M-NET, live transmission, fusion of classical ballet and Zulu dancing, Handel and traditional freedom song Shosoloza, stage and video director; Chenielle Jefferies, Raphael Vilakzi, Imilonji Kantu choir) The M-NET All Africa Film Awards 1996 (Cape Town, Baxter Concert Hall, for M-NET, stage director.

Included the improvised foyer presentation, “The filming of Balruba, Queen of Desire”) Slavery of Love (Cape Town, 1999, feature film, for the SABC and other African broadcasters, research, script, co-producer and director. Won award for Best Newcomer Director at Sithengi Festival, shown at various film festivals, including Zanzibar and Hong Kong) Brian Portelli’s Hillbrow (London, King’s Cross, 2004, Courtyard Theatre, new script, designer and director) Hillbrow (Wits Theatre, Amphitheatre, 15-25 April 2014, writer and director) Mother Courage (Cape Town, Brecht, in preparation, for 2015; a full community production under the auspices of Harold Cressy High School and also the launch of the peace initiative, Make Peace Not War).

Particular Skills

Working with young people and enabling them to produce their best work; Integrated productions, acting, singing, dancing, design.

Related experience and studies

Dance, UCT Ballet School Singing (Lloyd Strauss-Smith), UCT College of Music TEFL/TESOL diplomas, including teaching Business English 30 years in Public Relations, South Africa, UK and the Middle East, with performing arts councils (CAPAB, PACOFS), M-NET (ten years as Head of PR, from its inception, extensive Pan-African experience), international agencies, including the opening of the Weber Sandwick office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

The two events picture above were staged in Johannesburg and Amman. In 1996, M-NET staged two receptions after the stadium concerts by Luciano Pavarotti. In his capacity as Head of PR for the company, John Badenhorst received President Nelson Mandela (and a host of other leading politicians) at the Pretoria reception, where the audience was entertained by the Soweto String Quartet and a contribution was made to Mr Mandela’s Children’s Fund. With John is Nothando Mathe (-Mokone). In 2006, John Badenhorst’s client (at Weber Shandwick, Riyadh) celebrated the laying of a cornerstone for the Arab Open University campus, in Amman, Jordan, at a gala event on the site. Guests of honour were the co-chairpersons of the university, HM Rania, Queen of Jordan, and HRH Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, of Saudi Arabia.