Synchronicity. It’s a strange thing but sometimes there’s just something in the air. It happened at this year’s National Arts Festival with quite a few productions dealing with the Cradle of Humankind in different guises and genres.
One of these was Little Foot, which opens at The Market tomorrow for a six-week run.
The National Theatre in London commissioned the play from playwright Craig Higginson for the Connections Festival 2012. Ten plays are commissioned annually for the festival and are then given to about 200 schools and youth theatres in Britain.
The best production of each of the 10 plays is presented at the National Theatre over a week. There were 25 acclaimed productions of Little Foot and the writer was fortunate enough to see the South Lancashire production in June at the Cottesloe Theatre.
“At the Market Theatre, we have done productions like Grimm Tales and The Jungle Book to try to make good theatre for younger audiences. But there is another huge gap between the ages of 14 and 19,” he says.
That’s especially why they thought it would be a good idea to produce Little Foot locally for people of all ages, but targeting this age group specifically.
They also wanted to give young, recently graduated actors a chance on the Market’s main stage.
“We have recent graduates from Cape Town and Wits predomi- nantly – but also a student still training at the Market Laboratory,” says Higginson.
What he hopes with this production is to educate young audiences about their ancient history and common ancestry.
“It brings together our post-apartheid generation – the most contemporary – and juxtaposes their reality with that of our ancient ancestors. The oldest character is Little Foot, who is 3 million years old. The principal characters are about 19.”
Because he and director Malcolm Purkey wanted the production to be visually appealing and bold, they approached last year’s Young Artist Award Winner for Theatre Neil Coppen, someone who is known for his spectacular design abilities.
“We spent many hours, whenever he flew in from Durban, discussing the different elements,” says Higginson. “We wanted to draw together a compelling script with a bold design that uses all the latest technologies.”
The play is set in the caves at the Cradle, which we experience through the eyes of a group of young SA university students who went to school together and are having a reunion on New Year’s Eve, exactly a year since they last saw each other. One of them (Wizard) brings along a new girlfriend from England (Rebecca). He wants her to meet his oldest friends. This is where things go awry. He doesn’t know that they’re a bit fed up and want to trick him, but this is also where the playwright draws the contemporary and the ancient together – the caves being the obvious vehicle.
“It’s amazing,” says Higginson, who went to visit the caves only once he had written the play just to check that he got it right, “but Little Foot’s remains were taken out of the rock only a month ago. It took 13 years after the discovery!”
Blending the ancient with the contemporary is also a huge part of what the play is about in con- trasting writing styles as well as sound and appearance. It is exactly this multimedia approach that Higginson believes a younger crowd will enjoy. He has packed the story with symbolism, leading with the caves closely linked to darkness and light.
At the festival, audiences were baffled rather than bowled over by the production, but with an overwhelming set and technical challenges, it’s the kind of play that might take on a different complexion in a different theatre.
Hopefully things can be pulled together so that the two stories entwine more elegantly and perhaps what felt more like a Blair Witch Project tale gains substance to add weight to the subject.