But in recent years that picture has changed dramatically and the field has bloomed. This month the city hosts the 19th International Theatre Festival for Children and Young Audiences. It is a celebration of intercultural exchange with works from South Africa and all over the world. The programme of 64 shows has something for all tastes and age groups: www.assitej2017.org.za/festival
This personal selection is limited to shows in central city venues:
Babies and toddlers
Sensescapes (Sweden/Serbia) City Hall, 23 - 24 May Babies and their care-takers are invited to enter the Sensescapes installation to experience a series of carefully composed and interconnected events. All kinds of shapes, colours, textures and sounds are designed to engage the young audience in an interactive way. Expect an atmospheric environment with webs of rope, coloured lights and colourful shadows.
Fingers and Toes, My Body Knows (South Africa) Artscape, 24 and 26 May This is a dance production for a very young audience, created around the theme of touch and “rediscovering how intelligent our bodies are at perceiving the world around us”. It is presented by the very talented team featuring choreographer Nicola Elliot and performers Jori Snell and Sipumezi Khundayi.
3 to 7 years
What Goes Up (South Africa) Artscape, 26 May Jori Snell is credited with Jayne Batzofin as a designer of this play and her name (also on the previous listing) is enough to make any production jump onto my list. Through gentle clowning, the piece explores the emotional as well as the physical ramifications of the theme ‘up and down’. Originally created for deaf children, using South African sign language, it is also accessible and magical for hearing children.
The Bookbinder (New Zealand) City Hall , 20 - 21 May The Trick of the Light Theatre Company has won awards around the world for this one-man show which weaves together “shadow play, paper art, puppetry, and music into an original dark fairy tale”. The props and set are beautiful on a miniature scale; and in keeping with fairy tales of old, The Bookbinder is aimed at both the children and adults.
Seedfolks (USA) City Hall, 17 - 18 May Where her neighbours see a rat-infested lot, nine-year-old Kim sees a place to plant some precious beans. One by one, the people of her community become involved; the garden flourishes and they each experience their own transformation. Seedfolks is based on a children’s novel by Paul Fleischman and actress Sonja Parks which brings eleven different narratives to life in this stage version.
Patrice Balbina’s Chance Encounter with the End of the World (Italy, Canada, Australia, UK and Portugal) Artscape, 22 - 23 May This multi-lingual collaboration looks at poverty and migration, based on interviews with young people. These social issues are folded into a captivating story: “Patrice has noticed that small things are starting to disappear. The butcher loses his laugh, the man with the pigeon is losing his patience, and Dad says the government has lost its mind. Even the love of her life seems to be a little further away each day. But you wouldn’t expect the end of the world. Then it rang the doorbell.”
Teenagers and young adults
Rite of Spring (Netherlands/South Africa) Artscape, 18 - 20 May The Netherlands is a centre of the best of modern dance and this collaboration with young South African dancers is worth keeping an eye on. It is a modern coming of age story dealing with “peer pressure, hormones and the fear of beauty” in a story that mixes in prehistoric spring rituals.
Whiteout (Scotland) Artscape, 22 - 24 May This is a dance theatre piece from the wonderful Scottish company, Barrowland Ballet. It is a moving exploration of bi-racial relationships through highly energetic choreography.
Us/Them (Belgium) Artscape, 25 - 26 May For ten-year-olds plus, this production is from Bronks, one of Belgium’s leading theatres for young audiences. They pull off the extraordinary feat of making engaging theatre, with a lightness of touch and visual creativity, about the most terrible of situations: the 2004 hostage drama in Beslan, Russia, when a group of children was targeted by terrorists. Us/Them is about the way children cope with extreme situations.