Based on the children’s TV show from the 1970s, Bangalory’s Back is a collection of tales on a brightly coloured set perfect for busy little minds. Janice Honeyman is back on stage as the storyteller and plays many of the characters. Zoleka Helesi and Marty Kintu are brilliant in their portrayals of a range of people – from bullies to gentle marimba players to children lost in the city. They are engaging and enthusiastic, and Helesi has the most beautiful singing voice.
The play is on at the Baxter Studio, a comfy, intimate space ideal for an interactive children’s show. The stage is scattered with bright puppets and decorations, including the twirling tell-tale tree, which will be familiar to those old enough to remember the original show. Four separate stories are told, aimed at five- to twelve-year-olds. I went with three six-year-olds and a four-year-old (almost five). Some bits of it were mildly frightening for the four-year-old, who asked to go outside after a while, but the six-year-olds loved it.
In the first story, a young Mozambican boy plays marimbas and is teased by the village bullies. He is friends with the dolphins in the bay, who help him beat the bullies. There’s some beautiful imagery that makes you feel as if you’re in the sea, in a little wooden kayak, surrounded by dolphins.
The second, which I considered a little scary for a younger child, is about siblings who stay out playing too late in a war-torn area, only to go home and find that their parents have left. With the help of a beautiful bird, a fish and some magical butterflies they find their way to their parents. The bird, fish and butterfly are gorgeous and, despite the darker theme, the story has a great moral (as all tales should) about how kindness is repaid with kindness.
A modern African adaptation of Hansel and Gretel is the third story, after a break to stand up, wiggle bums and catch the kids’ attentions. Children from Gugulethu go to see the Christmas lights in Adderley Street and get separated from their parents. It all turns out okay in the end.
The fourth – our favourite – was a little tale of swapped roles that was played out using papier-mâché people and animals. It had a fantastic cow and the story had just the right amount of silliness to delight.
Bangalory’s Back is a great way to introduce the little ones to the theatre and get them away from increasingly-present screens. It’s bright, fun and interactive, greasing those young (and older) imaginations.
Bangalory’s Back is running at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio until 9 January 2016.