With a roar amid screeches of joy, The Gruffalo has jumped onto our African stage.
The West End smash-hit of writer Julia Donaldson’s and illustrator Axel Scheffler’s picture book (which sold 13 million copies), is playing to solid houses at the Cape Town Fringe at its headquarters in City Hall.
It is lovingly, wittily and deftly directed by prolific Cape Town director, Tara Notcutt, and stars the expressive Ayanda Nondiwana as the Gruffalo, Nombasa Ngoqo as mouse, with and Sisonke Yafele as fox, snake and owl.
As it travels through SA thanks to its producers, the National Arts Festival, The Gruffalo will become increasingly South Africanised and will get a local soundtrack, said NAF CEO Tony Lankester.
The set is a jolly forest, halfway between a tropical island and a European pine plantation. Can’t wait to see a few aloes and euphorbias tucked in there.
There was some slick use of props, such as the leaves which turned into a butterfly, and Guy Nelson’s lighting was a gentle embrace.
Nondlwana stands out as a fine Gruffalo. He brings energy and edge in his fantastically bearish, Michael-Jackson-goes-bossies multi-piece costume, while Ngoqo is dear and impish as the mouse in a classic giant-versus-tiny person dichotomy.
Sisonke Yafele’s militaristic Owl, with his many medals was an intriguing choice which combined strongmen around the world with the big man in Africa with day-glo orange specs.
Fox was a dapper flapper, but snake, as a hip-shaking Mexican sensation was outstanding. Moms and dads were amused at one particular pelvic gyration.
There might need to be either some trimming or acceleration to keep attention levels pumped three quarters in, but the kids had a marvellous time – with many varied responses (such as the kid who called out all the lines and one who daintily and deliberately went through her packed lunch) drawing smiles from adults, who sang and clapped along with gusto.
It was wonderful when the Gruffalo got really close (spoiler alert) and the ending was one big party.
At a time of great social division and unspeakably bad adult behaviour, it is encouraging that a children’s fantasy show is bringing our children across the globe together to have thrills and fun in a safe, comfortable space.
The Gruffalo is on at the Cape Town Fringe until 3 October. Bookings and details here.