BWW Reviews: LION ON THE PATH a Jolly Night for All at the Rosebank Theatre
Anybody can tell a story, but not everyone is a storyteller. In African oral traditions, the role of storyteller is a revered one, passing down cultural history, traditions and morals through the generations. In THE LION ON THE PATH, nine students from the University of Cape Town's Drama Department take on this time-honoured task, providing an hour or so of rib-tickling entertainment as they make their way through ten tales from Southern Africa recorded and notated by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey.
The characteristic whimsy of THE LION ON THE PATH begins as soon as one opens the programme, in which all of the cast are given nicknames, presumably based on in-jokes between the cast and creatives. Upon entering the theatre, the sense of fun builds with only a couple of quirky chalk sketches drawn on the walls that frame an otherwise empty space. A few minutes later, the performance begins with the story of "Mapandangare", a warrior baboon (played with roguish brio by Cameron Robertson) who helps a girl to protect her cattle.
The stories are told in a combination of narration, characterisation and physical theatre. Some of the cast members are better at one or more of these skills than the other, but all invest their work with the kind of energy needed for this kind of presentational theatre. Standout performances come from Jazzara Jaslyn, who delights whenever she takes the stage and particularly in the story of "Rabbit and Tortoise" and Skye Russell who brings to life a very grumpy rabbit in "Rabbit and Lion" and a beer-loving crocodile in "Grandmother and the Crocodile". Sive Gubanxa, Amelia Vernede and Fran Michel team up to tell the story from which the production takes its title, clearly having a great time with the physical theatre aspects of bringing the story to life. Offering good support all around are Shonisani Masutha, Nicole Fortuin and Dylan Owen.
Christopher Weare directs THE LION ON THE PATH with a firm hand that is neatly balanced by an open spirit, one that allows this group of students to bring these stories to life in their own way while still honouring the storytelling traditions from which they are drawn. His third production of UCT's Autumn season, following the double bill of DIE BUFFEL and THE OPEN COUPLE, sees him complete a hat trick in terms of producing entertaining theatre that challenges the students with whom he works to extend their limits beyond what they are comfortable with performing.
THE LION ON THE PATH is a jolly night at the theatre and has a broad appeal. The recent reappearance of storytelling in productions aimed at adults at fringe theatre venues - including pieces like MAFEKING ROAD, THE EPICENE BUTCHER AND OTHER STORIES FOR CONSENTING ADULTS and OOM SCHALK: FROM THE HEART -indicates that there is a still a place for this noble art in our cynical twenty-first century world. We all need a little bit of help to make sense of the lives we live, and that is what storytelling has done since its origins in the dawn of time.
THE LION ON THE PATH is on at the Rosebank Theatre until 17 May 2014. Bookings are through Webtickets. Bookings for the final production in UCT Drama's Autumn Season, TWELFTH NIGHT AT THE MACBETHS, are also open at Webtickets.
Photo credit: Jesse Kramer