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Magic tale of Hen and Hawk ready to charm theatre lovers

Published Feb 10, 2020


Ever wondered why chickens scratch the ground? Well, there are many theories behind this adorable behaviour. 

While they peck at the ground, they use their feet to scratch the surface underneath, but strangely they are not solely focused on the ground, they keep looking up. Why?

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In her latest production of "The Hen That Lost Hawk’s Needle", which makes its return to The South African State Theatre this month, playwright and director Letlhogonolo Riba tells the story behind this fascinating folk tale.

A long time ago Hen and Hawk were best friends. Their friendship changed the day Hawk lent Hen his magical needle, who then lost it. Hawk promised Hen that if she did not return the needle, he would eat her chicks. 

To this day, chickens scratch the ground looking for Hawk’s needle, with mother Hen always looking up to protect her chicks against Hawk’s lethal claws.

Hen, played by rising star Hlobisile Mahlangu, is attending a wedding, and she goes to Hawk (Boikie Mogorosi) who is a fashion designer, to make an outfit for her. Once the outfit is done, Hen takes it home. Hen is a bit disappointed that the dress is ill-fitting. 

"She takes the dress back to Hawk but her bestie is too tired to make the alterations. So Hen says to Hawk: “Lend me your needle, I’ll fix the dress myself.”

Back home, Hen pins her extravagant gown on to Rooster so she can alter it properly. Rooster, played by Rapelang Sindane, reluctantly puts on the dress to help Hen fix it. She then realises she had lost the needle. Now Hen is frantically looking for Hawk’s needle because Rooster can’t get out of the dress.

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Spoiler alert: once the outfit is on, only the magic needle can be used to remove it. This is one of the reasons roosters are so vibrant and colourful. Rooster is still stuck in Hen’s designer gown. 

Riba says that like all folk tales, the story carries moral lessons and important traditional values that are passed on from generation to generation. The Soshanguve-born creative says she hopes the audience will learn from this rich literary heritage, which provides a window into different cultures.

She explains: “We are using moral lessons to bring the story to life and make it relevant to the audiences. Though the play is a children’s theatre production, the message extends to adults as well.

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“The moral of the story is accountability. For instance, never borrow anything you can’t return.” 

Narrated by Robin Matlhabane, the 50-minute production features a lot of games, song and dance. “The show is light, colourful and fun… and what is also interesting about it is that there’s a lot of audience interaction. The play allows the performers to engage with the audience,” says Riba.

The cast of The Hen That Lost Hawk’s Needle. Picture: Supplied

Riba says the show had an incredible debut last year, and this year she is hoping for an even bigger and warmer reception. The Children’s Theatre practitioner says she plans to take the production across the country, but this is dependent on funding.

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Among other productions Riba has produced and directed are The Ungrateful Lion, Zandile, Joys of War, The Hungry Earth and Gangsters.

She performed in a play, She Cold, which went on to showcase at the Protest Arts International Festival (PAIF 2014) in Harare. 

Her published works include a monologue featured in Between the Pillar & the Post, A Multilingual.

All cast and crew members are Tshwane University of Technology graduates.

"The Hen that Lost Hawk’s Needle" takes centre stage at The South African State Theatre from February 19 to March 8. Tickets are R100.

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