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BWW Reviews: BANGALORY'S BACK with a Bang at the Baxter

Janice Honeyman's BANGALORY'S BACK is all set to
entertain children of all ages at the Baxter Theatre
Photo credit: Baxter Theatre (supplied)

Nostalgia is a key theme in the Baxter Theatre's festive season presentations this year, and BANGALORY'S BACK is rich in the stuff. A revival of the iconic South African children's television show, BANGALORY TIME, adults are able to bring their children and grandchildren to enjoy fondly this reboot of the series they loved so well and create some new fans at the same time.

The original series ran from 1976 - 1978, with Janice Honeyman (and later, André Hattingh) telling stories alongside colourful puppet characters like Percy Parrot, Mango Monkey and Alfredo Armadillo, the voices of which were provided by Tom Spruit, who operated the puppets alongside Jan Engelen and Ann Bailes. The puppets themselves were developed by Rod Campbell, with the series directed by Esmé Solnick.

In BANGALORY'S BACK, the audience finds themselves in the Bangalory Story Shop, in which every item tells a story. Honeyman takes centre stage, bringing to life four tales with the assistance of Zoleka Helesi and Marty Kintu. The mode of storytelling shifts easily between narration, characterisation and audience participation, using props and puppets (designed by Kintu and Hilette Stapelberg) found in the stimulating story shop environment (designed by Honeyman herself).

The stories told all fit within the folktales genre and, while all are age appropriate for the young target audience, none shies away from serious themes that affect the lives of children in Africa today. "Arlindo and the Dolphins", for example, explores the experience of being bullied, with a pod of music-loving dolphins helping the marimba-playing Arlindo to face the bullies that taunt him. Another story, "The Butterfly Miracle" is set against the backdrop of war, with the child protagonists embarking on a journey to find their parents in the far-off Blue Mountains, learning lessons about kindness on the way. That's not to say that BANGALORY'S BACK becomes heavy-handed. Raising the stakes of the stories by introducing these ideas truly invests the children's engagement in the storytelling, and the overall tone of the production is light, breezy and fun.

Zoleka Helesi, Janice Honeyman and Marty Kintu
with some of the colourful props from BANGALORY'S BACK.
Photo credit: Andrew Brown

My favourite story in the line-up was "The Story of Simphiwe and Nikiwe", a freewheeling and localised retelling of HANSEL AND GRETEL. On a day trip from Gugulethu to the Cape Town city centre, Simphiwe and Nikiwe are separated from their parents and must outsmart a spider who entices them to her lair with all kinds of sweet treats. The spider proved to be an effective villain, the kind that one enjoys watching in action and whose demise is equally satisfying.

The final story, "The Husband in the House", sees a husband take over his wife's household duties for the day, only to muddle up everything. This tale incorporates some fantastic imagery, although the clarity of the narrative is sometimes lost in the hilarity of it all. It is also the only tale where I would have liked to hear the other side of the story. Laughing at men's foibles in situations like these is a story trope that extends back as far as the Aesopica, also appearing in local oral performance forms, such as intsomi and izinganekwane. I can't wait to hear what happens to the wife when she arrives in traditionally male-dominated spaces: it's clearly a triumphant story, given her calm return to the homestead at the end of the day.

In bringing the stories to life, Honeyman, Helesi and Kintu work well together. There is an uncompromising generosity of spirit between them onstage and their goodwill spills over into the audience. When Honeyman - who takes on the persona of the befuddled old aunty who owns the Bangalory Story Shop - lost her place while reading "The Husband in the House", Helesi had her back on track in no time at all. There were smiles all around as Honeyman modelled a lesson of asking for help when one needs it. It was a moment of spontaneity within the show that transformed a potential weakness into one of its strengths.

Marty Kintu, Janice Honeyman and Zoleka Helesi in
action in "The Butterfly Miracle" from BANGALORY'S BACK.
Photo credit: Fahiem Stellenboom

In its technical aspects, BANGALORY'S BACK could be a little sharper. Luyanda Somkhence's warm lighting design tends to wash out the projection screen upstage which provides backdrops for the stories as they are told. All things considered, the projections are unnecessary and could be dispensed with. There is so much for the eye to absorb that they blend into the much more engaging three-dimensional environment of the shop rather than adding a further layer to the experience. The evocative soundscape, designed by Robert Jeffery, Adrian Kruger and Bongile Mantsai, sometimes threatens to drown out the performers' voices and some fine-tuning of the sound levels can be done.

Honeyman, with the assistance of Gay Morris, has created a captivating return to the Balgalory Story Shop, one which the young and young-at-heart seemed to enjoy equally. When the time came to sing along and shake everything about, many of the parents were on their feet just as quickly as their progeny. It was clear that everyone was all in at BANGALORY'S BACK, together. And when a tale begins in that way, imagine what the end of that story can be.

BANGALORY'S BACK runs at the Baxter's Golden Arrow Studio until 9 January at 10:00 and 12:00, on Tuesdays through Saturdays, with tickets costing R95 throughout. Booking can be made online through Computicket, by phone on 0861 915 8000 or at any Shoprite Checkers outlet. For discounted corporate or group block bookings, fundraisers or charities, contact Sharon Ward on 021 680 3962 or Carmen Kearns on 021 680 3993 during office hours.

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