SAGE advice of a wise mommy: Megan van Wyk and Kirsty Marillier see the other side of freckles. Photograph courtesy National Children’s Theatre
There’s an almost audible click, that the audience can hear, when performers in a show collaborate with a generous and real spirit of enthusiasm. And there’s almost an audible click when a cast sings with a production, not only in the literal sense, but also because they really get it. The rarity of both these things happening in a production takes your breath away because it is flawless: Freckleface Strawberry The Musical is a simple tale about bullying and friendship which is told with a deft directness, a sparkly sense of self and a true spirit of collaboration, enabling everyone on the creative team to give of their very best.
Led by Kirsty Marillier, who is cast so perfectly, she has the whole stage in her hand from the get go, this delicious little tale of the horrors and pleasures of being different takes you immediately into the rough and tumble of a seven-year-old context. It’s a story of bicycle riding and the tooth fairy, of gentle malice born of observation that is enabled to grow into something wretched, and of dreams that little boys and girls are allowed to have. While it is a little heavy handed on how the idea of marriage and babies represents unequivocal success, everything else about this autobiographical tale rings real, and the work never teeters into utter saccharine.
We’re all a little bit of a Freckleface, with our personal idiosyncrasies and our silent envy of other people’s perfections. This play very beautifully embraces those insecurities which are part of the human condition, with the interlocked narratives of eight children and a baby brother who wears a colander (Brandon Loelly), sparked into life with dreams and nightmares, the advice of a wise mommy and the part time sanctuary of an itchy woollen mask. It’s about vocalised ambitions to be the best and unspoken ones about fearing that you’re never good enough, and conjoined with its lyrics and its choreography, this production fits with as satisfying a ‘click’ as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
And everyone, literally everyone – Teekay Baloyi, Megan van Wyk, Dihan Schoeman, Caitlyn Thomson, Senzo Radedbe, Brandon Loelly and Megan Rigby – simply glows in this work. The crowning skill remains in the hand of director, Francois Theron because no one shines brighter than anyone else, and the flow of the story is delicate and robust enough to bring its message across. While the eponymous little redhead remains at the front and centre of the tale, she remains one of the kids in the best possible way. This rendition of the play – it was performed at this theatre in 2014 – will leave you with a different understanding of your own differences, but also with an awareness that you’ve just witnessed something deliciously perfect.
Freckleface Strawberry The Musical is written by Julianne Moore and directed by Francois Theron. Featuring design by Stan Knight (set), Rowan Bakker (musical supervision), Shelley Adriaanzen (original choreography), Phillida Le Roux (staging), Sarah Roberts (costumes) and Jane Gosnell (lighting), it is performed by Teekay Baloyi, Brandon Loelly, Kirsty Marillier, Dihan Schoeman, Caitlyn Thomson, Senzo Radebe, Megan Rigby and Megan van Wyk, it is at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown, until April 13. Call 011 484 1584 or visit nationalchildrenstheatre.org.za/
Bouncing and bounding onto stage in choreographic sequences — designed by Shelley Adriaanzen — which are satisfying to behold, is a fabulous young cast, telling a tale as old as time itself: The inestimable sadness of being different in a world where your greatest desire is to fit in with everyone else. And, not a story about a misfit duck or a child who’s smaller than the rest of them, but along the same themes, it’s a plea, with autobiographical undertones from playwright Julianne Moore that would warm the cockles of the hearts of most people, especially South African artist Anthea Pokroy, who has created a considerable body of work on the issue: to be red-haired and freckled really does distinguish a child from the rest of the pack.
Armed with caveats like “you don’t have to be the best at what you do, but you do have to love it,” the play, directed by Francois Theron, could very easily have slipped into silly schlock, but it retains its frisky freshness, against an ingenious set by Stan Knight. The cast of young adults, including relatively heavy-weights in the industry, Sarah Richard, Abel Knobel and Sihle Ndaba as well as Marike Smith, in the lead, clearly take what they are doing very seriously and in turn yield a delightful product, which is good on the eye and sweet on the heart.
Strawberry is seven years old. She has just learned to ride a two-wheeler, she’s losing some milk teeth, and she loves who she is and how she fits in to the general scheme of things in her world. That is, until her world realises that she’s different from them. And the ensuing teasing bruises her. Badly enough to make her want to hide from the whole world. There are some bizarre sequences in which she is chased by a band of evil freckles, and a give and take of characters and actors that flesh out an understanding of Strawberry’s domestic life. And ultimately a denouement in which Strawberry learns to embrace herself with gladness.
With deliciously stand-out performances by Smith as well as Dale Scheepers, the work also features demurely lovely and unaccompanied songs sung by Sarah Richard. The only draw-back in this utterly lovely bit of young people’s entertainment is the fact that Sihle Ndaba, a performer with an absolutely exquisite voice, as fans of Seussical Jr and Kwela Bafana will attest, doesn’t get to shine. She remains one of the company and her unique voice never does reach beyond that of her peers.
You’ll need a couple of tissues handy in this frank and articulate reflection on childish cruelty, self-hatred and embarrassment, but will leave the theatre a little lighter, a little happier.
Freckleface Strawberry, with music and lyrics by Gary Kupper, based on the books written by Julianne Moore, is directed by Francois Theron. Featuring design by Stan Knight (set), Rowan Bakker (musical supervisor), Shelley Adriaanzen (choreography), Sarah Roberts (costumes) and Jane Gosnell (lighting), it is performed by Emma Victoria Hayden, Abel Knobel, Sean Louw, Sihle Ndaba, Lindi Niemand, Sarah Richard, Dale Scheepers and Marike Smith, and is playing at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown until July 20 (011)484-1584.
A version of this review appears in the current week’s issue of the SA Jewish Report (www.sajr.co.za)