Arts Festival

Forever young

JUST me and my buddy: Craig Morris in The Red Balloon, at this year’s RedFest, until 30 July. Photograph courtesy Lisa Younger.

THERE’S NOTHING QUITE like celebrating your birthday with a lovely friend. This is what the central character in The Red Balloon, played by Craig Morris, discovers, as he takes you on a magical madcap journey through a whole gamut of emotions, armed with simple tools and complex skills. It’s one of the magnificent gems on this year’s RedFest and there’s still one more performance of it, on Sunday 30 July.

It’s one thing to tell a story to small children. But it’s quite another to cast pure awe over a very young audience and to get even the littlest of toddlers to laugh out with abandon at the abstract ideas that this mimed bit of clown-work contains. It breaks with all the rhythms and traditions of conventionally loud and patronising, predictable tales with clear morals and safe edges, designed specifically for children. The Red Balloon expresses a comprehensive palette of feelings, from grumpiness to joy, frustration to deep sadness, and back again, and there is a moment of release which will speak to you in the audience, even if you are a cynical grown up.

With the kind of richly symbolic, yet edited down theatre language that made La Linea, the Italian line animation of the 1970s such a universal delight, The Red Balloon is devoid of speech. Everything is shown, or implied, rather than told. And the narrative lines are bold and unequivocal. There’s a certain amount of bird poo jokes, a bit of cream-in-your-face slapstick and a lot of Peekaboo routines, but above all, and armed with a helium-filled balloon anchored with a weighted piece of string, a whole wonderful world of love and meaning is crafted. It’s like a gift presented to you in the audience.

Devoid of all the slickness of today’s technological tricks, the play comprises a simple set that offers a slice of feasible life for a lonely old man in an urban context. He’s lived and loved and lost. And amidst some warmed up spaghetti and meatballs, and a newspaper, he’s discovered by an entity which pokes and peers into his life, irrepressibly. The balloon in question takes on such human qualities, you will want to give it a hug. Take it home, you certainly will do, in your heart. It’s a beautiful buoyant yarn given extraordinary life by one of South Africa’s most capable clowns. Whatever you do, don’t miss it.  

  • The Red Balloon is written by Barry Kornhauser and directed by Toni Morkel. It features creative input by Tony Bentel (music), Lisa Younger (design) and is performed by Craig Morris, in the Auditorium at the Redhill Arts Festival in Morningside, Sandton, on Sunday 30 July at 11am.

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