Children's Books

Why this bunny learnt to read

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YOU MAY NOT think your three- or four-year-old is ready yet for lessons about the value of money, history and literature, but in the extremely able hands of director Daniel Geddes, your sproglet will be moved, taught and fascinated by the wiles of a silly bunny who cannot read, in the stage adaptation of Chris van Wyk’s delightful story Mr Hare meets Mr Mandela.

It’s a complex tale told by the grandchild of the hare in question about how literacy can help to avert foolishness in a dangerous city of readers where no one has have time for you if you don’t know the basics, and with seasoned National Children’s Theatre performer Sandi Dlangalala at its helm, it’s a work of empathy and clarity, hilarity and love, all slickly rolled together and dotted with local colour.

Combining shadow puppetry with make believe, idiosyncrasy with the kind of leaps of logic that happen in the confines of children’s theatre, Mr Hare meets Mr Mandela sees character changes at the flick of an eyebrow, as it sees a suitcase magicked into a hadeda, and a taxi ride like no other.

It’s a story within a story within a repeated tale of folly that may plant vital seeds in your child’s understanding of the value of reading, but it’s also one that showcases the adaptability of Alyssa Harrison who is the secretary bird narrator but also many a foil for a tale that takes the audience from the big plains of wild Africa to Houghton and the home of Nelson Mandela.

At the edges of the work are child performers who have been trained by the Nacties theatre workshop facility, and while they’re sweet and confident, their role in the work feels forced and not completely clear – like their diction. But again, directorial astuteness comes into play which sees the child performers given just enough theatre responsibility to touch the fringes of the work. The main narrative machinery is safe in the hands of the professionals.

A work that successfully skirts overworked Mandela clichés, this is a play that transforms a R200 note into R10 through the wiles and costs of being alive and hungry and not always alert in the urban metropolis. It’s a ‘Jim comes to Joburg’ kind of narrative that may well plant a seed in your child’s awareness of who they are in the world, and why Nelson Mandela matters.

Above all, it’s a theatre experience that skirts the obvious and gets directly to the nub of a great story told with fun and wisdom. A real gem.

  • Mr Hare meets Mr Mandela is written by Chris van Wyk and directed by Daniel Geddes. Performed by Sandi Dlangalala and Alyssa Harrison with a child cast comprising Erin Atkins, Zaynub Cajee, Simone Greehy and Tiago Do O’Filipe, it features design by Sarah Roberts (costumes), Stan Knight (set) and Jane Gosnell (lighting) and performs at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown until July 21.
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