WELCOME TO AFRICA! It’s a place of safari and godliness. It’s a context where the wily rabbit is often more sophisticated in his thinking than the beautiful leopard, and it’s a place where things die and are reborn. Jill Girard and Keith Smith bring you a compendium of stories and songs from Africa, and while the work dances close to a line that offers an unabashed conventional understanding of deep dark Africa, it’s a work that is about all the fun that can be milked from the idea.
If you read works of the ilk of Geraldine Elliott’s anthology Where the Leopard Passes, which has translated traditional African lore into English, you will know these stories which rest lightly on the myths and icons that populate western storytelling. The cast of four is competent and delightful, and their enthusiasm for the moment is contagious. It’s a cast that reaches from the older white man, Luciano Zuppa to the young black woman, Noni Mkhonto, touching with wisdom and relevance on all the issues in between, with a particular focus on the littlies in the audiences.
As is the wont of this theatre, there’s a festive, market kind of atmosphere in the audience that supports wild chases around the auditorium, boisterous participation even from the confines of your seat at the back, and an engagement with the premises of the tales told that is anything but precious. This is rough and tumble children’s theatre at its most direct, which contains some hilariously mangy animal masks and an understanding of puppeting dynamics that’s engaging and well-handled. To say nothing of a river evoked gorgeously by a piece of fabric.
Featuring many songs by Johnny Clegg, the piece is overwhelmingly orange in its presentation, offering an understanding of Africa that is at once fresh and clichéd. There are no tricks hidden in over-intellectualising anything in this romp in African values which will leave you with an enormous smile on your face and a sense of the value of singing-dancing-shouting connectivity.
- Our Stories Our Africa is directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith. It features design by Sandy Dyer (musical staging), Dale Scheepers (musical direction), Grant Knottenbelt (lighting, set and audio-visual), Simon Vermooten (sound) and Sean McGrath (costumes) and is performed by Travis Hornsby, Noni Mkhonto, Kutlwano Marvin Molepo and Luciano Zuppa, until September 29 at the People’s Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Call 011 403 1563.