The Star Early Edition - - TONIGHT STAGE -

Who was the plump­ish, cherub-faced young usher at the Breyten­bach The­atre in Pre­to­ria in the early ’70s who watched ev­ery sin­gle per­for­mance of ev­ery pro­duc­tion there, and rushed home to re­pro­duce minia­ture mod­els of the sets he saw? Even to im­prove on them, maybe?

And who was the en­dear­ingly opin­ion­ated cos­tume as­sis­tant on my na­tiv­ity play Starbrite? The young rooikop­pie say­ing: “Tinsel and sweet-pa­pers on cal­ico? I’m sure I can think of a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive!” And he did. In Pre­to­ria, wardrobe peo­ple talked about the bril­liant young cos­tume de­signer for Romeo and Juliet. Martie Scheep­ers, Tom Owen and Da­lene Holt raved about his amaz­ing feel for fab­ric and eye for colour.

But though he was praised and en­cour­aged by those he worked with, he him­self con­stantly strove to learn more and im­prove his al­ready as­tound­ing skills.

He trav­elled to places with which he iden­ti­fied cul­tur­ally, his­tor­i­cally and aes­thet­i­cally. He brought this home – vi­brant and burst­ing with the art of Florence, the dif­fer­ence of Thai ways, the fascination of Berlin, the cre­ma­tion cer­e­monies in Bali – more, and ever more! And he shared this with us lib­er­ally.

He soaked up de­sign meth­ods from es­tab­lished de­sign­ers in London and spent life-chang­ing months in Bayreuth, Ger­many, en­veloped au­rally, vis­ually and spir­i­tu­ally in the won­ders of Wag­ner and The Ring.

Jo­han al­ways had men­tors and role mod­els – the young de­signer Aubrey Coul­ing, who died trag­i­cally young. Jo­han al­ways felt he had been handed Aubrey’s man­tle to wear ever after. Neels Hansen (who also died last week) taught him to love opera, Ralph Koltai in the UK ven­tured into new, ab­stract ter­ri­tory, Terry Hands gave him thrilling op­por­tu­ni­ties at The Royal Shake­speare Company and later around Europe.

Then the mu­tu­ally ex­cit­ing and stim­u­lat­ing friend­ship and work re­la­tion­ship with opera di­rec­tor David Pount­ney, with Masker­ade, the highly-chal­leng­ing, bril­liant and com­pelling The Pas­sen­ger, many other in­no­va­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tions of opera, and last year the crit­i­cally ac­claimed, vis­ually fab­u­lous and fan­tas­ti­cal The Magic Flute in Bre­genz.

And, of course, so many more direc­tors, de­sign­ers, singers, ac­tors and tech­ni­cal crews shared a deeply re­ward­ing cre­ative link with Jo­han.

All his best bud­dies who loved him ap­pre­ci­ated the good time he

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