I am no longer surprised by the excellence of the work of the National Children’s Theatre, under the skilled and imaginative direction of Francois Theron and his team. I have come to expect it. It does, however, still thrill me, evoking a joyous wonder at his creation of yet another piece of theatre magic. Their current production is no exception.
The latest work, Underneath a Magical Moon, written by Mike Kenny, finds Wendy Moira Angela Darling and her two brothers, John and Michael, sleeping out in their back garden. Wendy tells the story of Peter Pan. The unspoken time honoured joy of stepping into a world where one’s imagination is exercised and used to bring great pleasure and lasting happiness is unveiled for a digital generation. I hope that this message is taken home by the children who were clearly engrossed in the action, to the point that an audience member answered a question directed by one cast member to another.
With a cast of only four, Daniel Keith Geddess as John and Captain Hook, Danny Meaker as Michael and Peter Pan, Phiphi-Gu’mmy Moletsane as Tinkerbell and Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku as Wendy, the young actors recreate an abbreviated and entirely plausible Peter Pan, such as James Barrie would recognise. It really is an ensemble production, with all four actors thoroughly engaged throughout. There are some charming moments with Wendy flying, Tinkerbell saving Peter, Captain Hook not brushing his teeth and Michael just being the little, sleepy, brother.
The set by Sarah Roberts shows her wonderful attention to detail despite its simplicity. The moon is a large beach umbrella, the city lights in the background, the garden tools become wonderful props – two rakes form the powerful jaws of the crocodile “tick tock” that found Captain Hook’s hand so tasty that he wants the rest of Captain Hook. The costumes, also by Sarah Roberts, are simple pyjamas and the dressing gown belonging to John’s father becomes Peter’s shadow and Hook’s body being swallowed up by the crocodile. The winning touch for the costumes (and perhaps the entire production) is when sleeping bags become mermaids’ tails and the actors/children don funky neon wigs and sing and dance with abandon. It is simply delightful.
Jane Gosnell is the lighting designer and she created her own wonderful magic as the children fly and then simply flit around the stage, ever busy. Tandi Gavin Nee Meikle is the choreographer and Cathrine Hopkins the musical director. The voices of the all the cast members were strong and clear and the music was a delight. Ivan Stott’s wonderful score is filled with marvellous tunes and Geddess gets to shine in places with his undeniable musical talent. Willie van Staden is the stage manager.
The really good news is that adults are as much entranced by the work as the children are. In fact, you don’t even need a child in order to enjoy this. The theatre will sell you an adult ticket.
The work is funded by the National Lotteries Commission. The next two productions are “My Children! My Africa!” in April-May 2018 and “The Pied Piper” in June-July 2018.
Underneath a Magical Moon runs until 15 April 2018 at 10:30 and 14:30 from Monday to Saturday during school holidays at the National Children’s Theatre, 3 Junction Avenue, Parktown, Johannesburg. 011 484 1484/5 or firstname.lastname@example.org.