The National Children’s Theatre in Parktown presented “Aesop’s Fables” for a brief, brief moment before the theatre, headed by Moira Katz, did a voluntary shut down in the face of COVID-19.
Written by a Greek slave, sometimes believed to have been of Ethiopian/African origin, Aesop’s tales are approximately 2600 years old. That they have survived into the 21st century is a testimony to their effectiveness and continued relevance.
Humans generally, and children particularly, enjoy anthropomorphic stories. Aesop’s Fables superimpose human characteristics onto a variety of animals to create delightful stories with morals that even quite small children can work out for themselves. Ryan Dittmann, the director of this gem, mostly lets the children get on with drawing their own conclusions, which is exactly as it should be.
The cast is made up of Lillian Tshabalala, Ntsika Benya, Refilwe Mokgotlhoa and Daniela Caprin. Each played multiple characters with charm and imagination, although I was particularly drawn to some of the portrayals of Ms Mokgottlhoa who has wonderfully expressive face. Daniela Caprin was the puppeteer in the story of the lion and the mouse and she managed to become invisible to me as I was transfixed by the mouse. That is its own wizardry.
The creative team used at the National Children’s Theatre works together on most productions and the simple but effective set by Stan Knight and the understated African bright costumes by Sarah Roberts and unintrusive lighting by Jane Gosnell work, as always, with great effectiveness.
Christine Ludwig was the musical director, choreography was by Teekay Baloyi and stage management by newcomer, Nikki Grobler, who was so sweet about me wheeling myself all over her performance ready stage. Yes, the theatre is actually wheelchair accessible.
The success of any production can be judged by how one responds after the actors have taken their final bow, and we had a conversation about the fables in the car as the children processed what they had seen. Interestingly, the material was already familiar to a first grader.
The production was a success. The children loved it. From my point of view as a childless woman, good theatre is good theatre and if it doesn’t work for adults, it certainly isn’t good enough for children. “Aesop’s Fables” as a theatrical production is as magical as the original stories, and it certainly deserves to reopen when the South African situation returns to what I expect will be a “new normal” in what I pray may be a short while. I will attend again. I loved it.