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Cape Town is one of the few cities in the world where humans have had to find a way to share their space with animals, in this case baboons.
Approached by the Table Mountain National Park in 2005, Jungle Theatre devised a production called Hoerikwaggo (the name of the mountain range stretching from Table Mountain to Cape Point), highlighting what happens on the mountain but from the animals’ perspective.
Steenberg-based Jungle Theatre Company devises most of its work to a theme, like dog fighting, depending on the commissioning client.
“This one we started with the location. Our partners were Table Mountain National Park so we went and spoke to the rangers and found out from them what’s going on in the park, what’s happening, what things they want us to get across.
“From that we realised that baboons are an issue that affect a lot of people. It’s a situation that has a big effect on our lives, when wild animals and human beings have to live together,” said Jungle Theatre Company artistic director Vincent Meyburgh.
“It demands lots of research. We have to look for that particular animal or you are directed about how it moves,” Ntombifuthi Mkhasibe explained about their style.
She plays the old woman of the mountain, an eagle and a seagull in the production.
“For the sounds it’s mostly Vincent who taught me ‘for the seagull you do this one, for the eagle it’s like so’,” she said.
Having grown up in Durban, she needed to learn about how eagles move, and now that she lives in Marina da Gama she has learnt more about baboons than she ever wanted to know.
“When I started the project, some of these animals, I’d never seen them. So I had to go and check them out to get comfortable,” said Mfundo Hashe, who with Meyburgh plays a baboon (and a penguin and, at one point, a flying baboon), in Hoerikwaggo.
“Social and environmental issues, done in an entertaining way, proudly South African and original, using singing and storytelling and clowning and audience partici- pation,” is how Meyburgh describes the Jungle Theatre style.
“We’ve moved from being for children to being a family thing,” explained Hashe.
“We try to make children’s theatre that isn’t condescending or patronising. We’re trying to see the children in all of us. If it’s suitable for a four-year-old child, it can still be suitable for a 40-year-old man,” said Meyburgh.
Mkhasibe is the storyteller who holds the whole thing together, but it only works if the audience buys into the concept.
“In South Africa we have a culture of storytelling where the animals speak in the stories, so that’s what we’ve latched on to. We’ve researched the real animals and see what kind of human characteristics comes out of that.
“They respond to that. Once she starts telling the story she draws them into that world. They don’t necessarily believe, but they play the game,” said Meyburgh about whether little ones think they make believable baboons or not.
“When we are packing up our stuff, they will call us by our character names, even though we introduce our real names in the show,” Hashe concluded.
• Jungle Theatre’s updated Hoerikwaggo at Kalk Bay Theatre, Thursday to Saturday at 11pm, plus a 2pm show on Saturday. R50 at www.kbt.co.za.