Show Works Creative Entertainment's JUST SO STORIES is back on Cape Town stages this festive season, running daily at the V&A Waterfront until 23 December. The show has a couple of seasonal presentations under its belt, having previously been presented as holiday entertainment at Grandwest in 2010 and at the Kalk Bay Theatre two years before that.
The 50-minute long show dramatises several of Rudyard Kipling's classic stories, including "How the Whale Got His Throat", "How the Leopard Got His Spots", "How the Camel Got His Hump" and "How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin", as well as a story about how the nightingale was given her song. The tales are linked using a play-within-a-play framework showing challenges faced by the actors who are bringing the stories to life, ostensibly to show how the lessons taught in the stories are relevant to our everyday lives.
While it is great to see a shopping mall offer children's theatre as an attraction in their line-up of family friendly seasonal activities, the open-air amphitheatre at the V&A Waterfront is not an ideal venue. With distractions provided by the milling crowds, the buzzing food court just behind the seating area and audience members who walk in and out of the seating area throughout the duration of the performance, the job of engaging young minds and imaginations is made all the more difficult for the small company of actors on stage.
The four actors, Pieter Bosch Botha, Sally Robinson, Lisa Wynne and Dylan Horley (who has replaced Niall Griffin midway through the run due to illness), need to tackle this challenge more directly by working with greater vigour during the show. At the performance I attended, the quartet was under-energised both vocally and physically, especially in the sections telling the frame story. Indeed, the frame story is the least convincing part of the show and the links to real-life applications of the stories' morals are somewhat superficial and too glib, coming off a little preachy at times.
The Kipling-inspired tales are more convincing than the framework, with an inventive use of costume pieces, props, title projections, audience interaction and snippets of music to differentiate each story. The four actors rely primarily on accent work to distinguish the many characters they play. While basic postures and gestures are also used as tools for characterisation, there needs to be much greater variety between the characters physically.
JUST SO STORIES has the potential to be a great piece of children's theatre, but it falls short both in its scripting and in the performances. The latter problem can be fixed fairly easily with greater energy and commitment from the actors, but the former needs more work both conceptually and in the rehearsal room. Were both problems addressed, the show might emerge as something special. As it is, it is just so-so.
JUST SO STORIES runs at the V&A Waterfront every day at 11:00 until 23 December. Entrance is free.