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Annette BayneBy Annette Bayne, a freelance writer, journalist and mother of two young boys (4 & 1).  As a journalist she covers theatre, dance, art, entertainment and culture. While she doesn’t get to cover as much of the arts as she once did, she tries to share a love for the arts with her sons. 

 Long before I had children, I loved children’s theatre. Over and above the charm of much-loved stories, children’s theatre is often quite surprising and very responsive to its audience. Children are without a doubt the most honest of critics, and with their access to a multitude of entertainment options, sometimes the hardest to please. In Johannesburg children’s theatre has risen to the challenge, staging magical productions, usually on shoestring budgets, that touch the mind, heart and soul.

This holiday the National Children’s Theatre (NCT) staged George’s Marvellous Medicine adapted by David Wood and directed by Francois Theron. As books, Roald Dahl’s stories tend to appeal to the older child (usually reading by themselves). They appreciate the layers of everyday realism embedded in the fantasy, and the subversive narration that puts the grown-ups on the back foot. In their adaption to theatre, these stories appeal to a much wider audience. The younger members of the audience delight in the visual and physical aspects of the story, and the older, the subtler nuances in the dialogue.

This production appeals to children of all ages, over 4. When Grandma comes to stay, George’s holiday is ruined. Grandma, performed by Genevieve Olivier with an infectious cackle and cheeky sparkle, is a bully. She is mean, bossy and a little bit magical. George decides to teach Grandma a lesson and mixes a bitter concoction to replace her usual medicine dose.

The character of George is played by three actors Samuel Hertz, Bjorn Bertholdt and Kiano Janse van Rensburg, all part of the NCT’s theatre workshops. It is a large role for such young actors and occasionally their performance isn’t as polished as their adult counterparts. However, more importantly, younger audiences really identify with them, making both the story and the theatre experience more accessible to them

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Having forgotten much of the original story, I found myself a little horrified at what was being added to George’s pot of medicine and the neurotic spoil-sport mom in me was looking to put up the “do not try this at home” warnings. But the children giggled in delight as each new ingredient is added, encouraging George to get more daring with his mix. The set, designed by Stan Knight, is cleverly created with multiple doors that open on to whole rooms of potential ingredients for George’s pot of “Medicine.”

It is a very interactive performance and the children love getting involved in telling the story and helping George out. For adults, it is worth going just to see the giant chicken, played by Lerato Mahlasela. Mahlasela has gone to great lengths to channel her inner-chicken and I doubt you will ever see a more beady-eyed, single-minded creature outside of the farmyard. Mahlasela’s timing is perfect and she gives her audiences, old and young, a good squack.

With fantastic performances all round including Zoe Beavon and Ben Pienaar as Ma and Pa, plenty of comedy and great story-telling, George’s Marvellous Medicine is a must-see this holiday.

George’s Marvellous Medicine is on until 17 July 2016, daily at 10:30 and 14:30 during government school holidays; 1½ hours with a short intermission at National Children’s Theatre, 3 Junction Avenue, Parktown, Johannesburg.

Bookings are essential, phone Claudy or Zuki on 011 484 1584/5 or e-mail bookings@nctt.org.za

Click here to find a list of other children’s shows you can take your kids to these holidays.

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