Stan Knight, set designer for the National Children’s Theatre, made a baobab tree for a corporate event. They didn’t want it after the event so he donated it to the National Children’s Theatre. Artistic Director, Francois Theron, applied his mind to the beautiful symbol of Africa and came up with a fabulous bit of theatrical magic in the form of stories from Africa told “Under the Baobab Tree”. The stories are traditional, but the linkage is by Theron himself, although when he finds time to do these things one doesn’t know because he has been very busy working on Freckleface Strawberry, The Revealers (an anti-bullying play for children in primary school) and other plays as well (although I haven’t written about them I have seen, and enjoyed, them).
The National Children’s Theatre has a theatre crafts school for young people and three different casts are used on different days to make up the children’s component of this particular story telling theatre. Children involved in this learn much more than stage craft – they develop their confidence, learn discipline and teamwork and gain a wealth of experience which will help them both at school and in their extra curricular activities. Suzaan Helberg, JT Medupe, Nonhla Mkhonto, Emkay Khanyile and Mamhato Askew are the adult theatre professionals in the cast.
The premise is that an elderly farmworker dies and bequeaths a trunk full of his memorabilia to the children of the area. The treasure is an old cassette recorder from which the music of my youth blares. The little ones today might be hearing those songs for the first time, but they sway and bop just the way I did. Miriam Makeba’s Click Song and Pata Pata have lost none of their magic over the years.
Waka Waka, Kinders van die Wind and, curiously, the Four Jacks and a Jill’s Master Jack are also part of the musical heritage which pop out of the battered trunk as we hear the story of the monster in the wardrobe, the 2010 World Cup, and the African Cinderella tale, and the beautiful young woman who married for money and position and was abused rather than loved. (I can hear my father telling me that if I married for money I’d earn it).
The really great thing is that there is plenty of scope for future editions of this wonderful concept born from a donated set.
Under the Baobab Tree runs at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown until 12 September 2014.