BWW Reviews: TREE / BOOM / UMTHI an Enchanting Experience for the Littlies

Sispho Mbopha, Lubabalo Nontwana and Sivuyile Dunjwa
Sispho Mbopha, Lubabalo Nontwana and
Sivuyile Dunjwa in TREE / BOOM / UMTHI
Photo credit: Mark Wessels

Theatre is a special kind of magic for the very young. At that age, an effective piece of theatre offers an interactive engagement that other forms of entertainment rarely achieve, and the negotiation of identity and worldview that follows can be incredibly affirmative for young audiences. While there certainly is no shortage of children's theatre around, it is rare to find a piece as beautifully shaped for a specific age group as Magnet Theatre's enchanting TREE / BOOM / UMTHI. Created for 3 - 7 year olds, what is particularly refreshing about the piece is its casting aside of the popular dramatised fairy tale format, engaging its audiences with stories and images plucked from the world that surrounds them.

TREE / BOOM / UMTHI is the story of a big tree. The 30-minute narrative starts when a hungry child, who wishes to eat a peach, plants a seed in the ground. As the tree grows, the company of four actors lets us in on secrets about day and night, the seasons and the animals that interact with trees in the natural world. This is followed by a quarter hour of facilitated interaction between the cast and their young wards, in which various images and actions from the story are explored and enacted. Finally, the children are each presented with a full colour book that retells the story in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa alongside beautiful full colour illustrations by Julia Anastasopoulos.

Watching the children engage with the performance is delightful. There is room for the youngsters to engage with the story at their own level of development, but they are never less than completely entranced by the variety of images, shapes, sounds and movements that director Jennie Reznek created in collaboration with the Magnet Theatre trainees when TREE / BOOM / UMTHI was developed in 2013. The piece also has a spirited sense of humour, and deals with the conflicts that come up in nature in a completely age appropriate manner, exciting without being threatening.

Lubabalo Nontwana and Thulisa Mayalo
Lubabalo Nontwana and Thulisa Mayalo in TREE / BOOM / UMTHI
Photo credit: Mark Wessels

Visually, Craig Leo's design for TREE / BOOM / UMTHI offers a range of colours and textures for young eyes to absorb. A particularly neat touch is the use of the leaves that border the performance area, which serves as the basis for one of the post-performance interactions. The props used in the story, from the multi-coloured leaves that communicate the passing of the seasons to the tiny mirror balls that become the stars towards which the tree reaches with its limbs at night, are inspired.

The tightly-knit ensemble of performers includes Thulisa Mayalo, Sivuyile Dunjwa, Sisispho Mbopa and Lubabalo Nontwana. Each of them inspires what is perhaps the most attractive thing about TREE / BOOM / UMTHI for young audiences: a sense of play. What is most remarkable is how genuinely and organically they remain present with the children seated in front of them, while still executing the vocal and physical work required in the performance. The quartet helps to make TREE / BOOM / UMTHI the best kind of theatre for young audiences: theatre that is as good a performance as it is an experience, that communicates with children rather than simply at them and that never patronises their experience of the world.

TREE / BOOM / UMTHI warms the heart and refreshes the spirit. By turns gentle and robust, the piece is sure to be remembered by littlies who are fortunate enough to be taken along by their parents to the Magnet Theatre in Observatory, where the play will be performed for the next two Saturdays. It is the perfect introduction to theatre and a stimulating way to learn some of the fundamental principles of the natural world. Don't miss it!

Recently returned from sold out performances at Kinderkinder in Hamburg, Germany. TREE/BOOM/UMTHI opened at the Magnet Theatre last Saturday, where it will play for two more performances on 25 October and 1 November at 11am. Contact Nomzamo on 021 4483436 for bookings and more details and keep up to date with Magnet Theatre projects by visiting this award-winning physical theatre company's website.


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