Children's Theatre

Wild beasts caught in a franchise



STEAK comes from where?! A monkey (Bradley Hartmann) explains hard jungle truths to domesticated Marty the Zebra (Thokozani Jiyane) and Alex the Lion (Luciano Zuppa). Photograph courtesy People’s Theatre.

IF YOU ARE complacent about feeding your youngsters a hefty uncritical dose of colonial platitudes, dished out by adult performers dressed in furry onesies, look no further. With lashings of strobes, pepperings of shrieks and frantic chases around the auditorium, Madagascar is a wild experience. It might not be every child’s proverbial cup of tea, however.

The exercise of translating a film-length cartoon into a live theatre performance is a strange one, on so many levels. Granted, it is part of a highly successful franchise opportunity, but from a creative perspective, or a philosophical one, it feels odd. This is simply because of the enormous differences in energy in the two approaches to storytelling, which effectively dilutes the original again and again and again, down to the most basic story line and jokes.

This is not to say that the medium of theatre is limited, but rather that the muscling in of a cartoon franchise with obvious rules about interpretation onto a stage of performers smothers its possibility relentlessly.  But there’s more, along the lines of this theatre’s production of Seussical Jr, last season, the work features children who have not properly been taught how to breathe, pace their words and articulate on stage. As a result, much of the lyrics are completely lost.

Madagascar is a boiler-plate kind of tale which is about animals escaping from a New York zoo and angling for a better life in the wild. It’s caught in Brooklyn idioms with all its references and accents, and as a result, much of the cultural subtleties and ironies  may be forfeited for a South African audience, particularly one who has not experienced the original film. And the colonialist platitudes are all there and implicit in ways that don’t allow the children watching it to question or doubt. Rather, it’s aggressively and loudly fed to them in one single dose.

And while the furry onesies are endearing on the eye, and unequivocally recognisable, they are limited in terms of an innovative understanding of what it means to be a zebra or a lion. Instead, there’s a kind of lumpen approach to the story and the animals, from a hippo to penguins to lemurs. And while the performances of the adult cast, led by Marvin Molepo as Melman the hypochondriac giraffe; Luciano Zuppa as Alex the lion whose carnivorous instincts are dulled by cosy zoo life; Thokozani Jiyane, the zebra and main monochromatic mover and shaker; and Joëlle Rochecouste as the thighy hippo are competent, they don’t force the roles beyond the cartoon cut out script.

While you must respect the mandate of the theatre, and its stated approach to franchises of this nature, you cannot help but feel a little sad as to the growth opportunities among young sensibilities that feel compromised here.

  • Madagascar: A Musical Adventure is written by George Noriega with lyrics by Joel Someillan, based on the book by Kevin Del Aguila. Directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith, it is performed by Bradley Hartmann, Thokozani Jiyane, Marvin Molepo, Joëlle Rochecouste, Raymond Skinner, Jemma-Claire Weil and Luciano Zuppa, with alternate child casts comprising Lexi Abrahams, Lerhuo Aphane, Landon Dowling, Tanya Edelstein, Amy Ferreira, Liyema Hogana, Aydin Kauchali, Bokang Leolo, Kutlwano Maseko, Mbuyelo Mbokota, Leano Molebatsi, Christina Moschides, Asande Msizi, Leora Myers, Lwandle Ntloko, Kiese Nxumalo, Chidera Nwoha, Mia Sartini-Kruger, Wandi Sikwane, Sky Sluzki, Demi Toker and Kieran Wagner. It features creative input by Sandy Dyer (musical staging), Dale Scheepers (musical direction), Grant Knottenbelt (lighting, set and audio-visual), and Sean McGrath, Trudie Stroh and Merry Whillier (costumes) and performs at the People’s Theatre, Joburg theatre complex in Braamfontein, until August 4.

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