ONE roar and all resistance crumbles: Sisonke Yefele is The Gruffalo. Photograph by Nardus Engelbrecht.
WHAT WOULD YOU do if you were all alone in a forest, with a yen for a nice big nut, and a knowledge that there were creatures for whom you would be lunch? A brave brown mouse, played by Nombasa Ngoqo captures the hearts and sense of adventure of little ones as she tricks the fox, the owl and the snake into believing she’s tougher than them in this South African version of the West End’s The Gruffalo.
It’s a-screech-a-minute scenario in a deep, dark wood, with the very young audience members, who love the “He’s right behind you!” sequences of shouts in this show, of which there are plenty. It’s a character which, penned by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler in 1999 in a storybook took the world by storm.
The Gruffalo – played by Sisonke Yefele – is a monster who’s quite easily frightened, in truth. He’s a madcap combination of various scary elements, such as horns and poisonous warts, deliciously potent claws and orange eyes, and the story’s largely about who can be more hilariously scared than who. It’s also a tale of friendship and trickster behaviour and an understanding of the soft spots of the monster you can conjure up in your mind.
Brought to fantastic life on stage with bright colour and intense sound, replete with a cuddly Gruffalo costume, it’s a rollicking bit of theatre which the littlies will know from their exposure to other levels of Gruffalo rhetoric. He’s everywhere, in the form of stuffed plush toys, games and songs. While the piped music often fights with the performers’ voices and you lose some of the work’s nuance in the lyrics, this is not a hassle for the toddlers on board, who want ultimate victory for the mouse and a chance to pat the Gruffalo himself.
The Gruffalo is a stage adaptation of the eponymous children’s story book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. It is directed by Tara Notcutt and performed by Mandisi Heshu, Nombasa Ngoqo, Ayanda Nondlwana and Sisonke Yefele at Auto and General Theatre on the Square, twice daily, until May 7. Visit gruffalolive.co.za or call 011-883-8606.
CELEBRATING difference: Craig Pomranz’s Made by Raffi. Photograph courtesy amazon.com
WERE YOU ONE of the “normal” set in primary school? Did you go around proclaiming things like “Look how short she is! She must be two years old, not seven. Do you think she’s a midget, maybe!” or “Let’s tease the fat boy with the red hair and tell him how ugly he is!” In so many respects, this is so-called normal behaviour. Children construct their own identity among their peers by the yardsticks of sameness and difference.
And often it is the child who is different from everyone else who gets ostracised, and turned into a scapegoat to be jeered at – be it the child who has red hair, the child who is shorter, bigger, fatter, darker than everyone else; the child who is more intelligent, more talented, more taciturn, more foreign. And always, it is these very children who have to construct their own identity using different margins of self-hood. Craig Pomranz’s Made by Raffi engages these issues head on, with a boy who can knit.
Illustrated with simplicity and freshness by Margaret Chamberlain, the book is succinct and lucid and even touches on gender issues briefly, but poignantly enough to matter and not be inappropriate, to a child who is just on the point of learning to read by themselves.
Raffi is not like the other children. He likes to wear bright colours. He likes to keep his hair longer than most. He’s quietly spoken and is afraid of the loud and rambunctious children who push and shout. He gravitates to the teachers at break because he perceives a sense of stability to exude from them – and he knows they won’t tease him. Knitting – and sewing – become sanctuaries for him and turn his status amongst his peers around.
Structured and functioning with the same type of focus as Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling, or Julianne Moore’s Strawberry Freckleface, Made by Raffi contains all the important elements that impress child readers. There is a fabulous sense of detail in the drawings of the children in Raffi’s class which keep you focused on each page, and above all there is a sense of levity conjoined with earnestness that keeps the story real – whether your child is the one who’s different or the one who notices differences in others.