SIT STILL FOR a moment and listen. If you are lucky enough to be in a place where birdsong reaches your ears before the angry rush of traffic, hold onto that. But try to hear what those birds are saying, and take heed. This is the nub of the message you will take away with you from Nicholas Ellenbogen’s astonishingly fine work, which first saw light of day in the 1980s, Horn of Sorrow, which performs this weekend in the Wild Garden at the Hilton Arts Festival.
But the world out there, alive with sounds, is not telling you just one thing. This performed narrative, suitable for the whole family, is rich with humour and tragedy, improvisation that will bring out goosebumps at the back of your neck, and social commentary that even the littlest of audience members will understand.
It is here where you will get to witness the birth of a baby girl rhinoceros, named Thembalethu (Kaylee McIlroy) and understand the diversity of diet (and moral fibre) of the scavenger. It is also here where you get to understand the beautiful nonchalance of animals in the wild, and the unspeakable cruelty that we, as a materially insatiable species, perpetrates – down to the point of orphaning young things.
And of course, there are fart jokes and snippets of slapstick, not to forget pepperings of popular culture references in English, Afrikaans and isiZulu, amongst the syncopated choreography that will get even the sproglets in nappies chortling.
With a character, and a sense of cheesy humour not unlike the duck in Chris Noonan’s 1995 film Babe, the vulture (Menzi Mkhwane) skirts between narrator and heckler, breaking that fourth wall even more than being outside does, allowing the rest of the cast to emerge from their characters from time to time, to remind you that this is a production, indeed.
Horn of Sorrow, as the name indicates, is not a funny show. Complete with a witty script and beautiful performers that use every inch and possibility of their bodies to collaborate and become nature, this is the horrifying tale of rhino poaching in Africa. And like any important story well told, it will make you laugh and cry and learn and think. Even if you are five years old.
Staged outdoors and using devices of the ilk of pieces of wood that evoke rhino horns, a Jew’s harp, the orchestra of sounds that the human head and hands are capable of making, this cast of six takes the notion of children’s theatre with real values up hundreds of notches. It’s a show that brings you the irrevocable sense of privilege in firstly, being able to see theatre under the sky, and secondly, fresh work of this incredible nature.
Horn of Sorrow is written by Nicholas Ellenbogen. Directed by Brendan Grealy, it is performed by Nkosikhona Dube, Asanda Khathi, Kaylee McIlroy, Menzi Mkhwane, Mpilo ‘Straw’ Nzimande, Mthokozisi Zulu, with sound design by Marciano Monjane. It is on at the Hilton Arts Festival on Saturday September 24 at 3pm and Sunday September 25 at 10:30am in the Wild Garden.