The ‘Little Festival' set a high benchmark for children's theatre in the city

Theatre for children should be simple, not stupid. Unfortunately, plenty of its adult creators can't differentiate between the two. They assume a heavily didactic tale (and for some reason it's taken for granted that this genre must always be moralistic) with short sentences and plenty of ‘slipping-on-a-banana peel' humour is all it takes to slap a play together.

The Little Theatre's ‘Little Festival,' now in its second year, sets a reassuringly high benchmark for children's theatre in the city. Choosing quality over quantity, festival curator Ayesha Rau of The Little Theatre, picked three plays this year: Heungbu Nolbu by Theatre Seoul in association with an Indian team, Troi by Thetre Werkstatt Hannover and Atita, the home production.

Crafty mix

Instead of dumbing down the dialogue to annoyingly simplistic, all three productions chose to illustrate their stories with a crafty mix of music, dancing and singing to capture the attention of their young audiences. Backgrounds were simple, but lush in colour and detail. Actors used their bodies as much as their speech to communicate. And the audience was constantly involved, as actors leaned over to chat, and/ or came right into the seating area, much to the children's delight.

Heungbu Nolbu, an Indian-Korean production was the end result of a workshop bringing together nine children from Korea and eight from Chennai. The InKo Centre's first co-commissioned Indo-Korean Children's Theatre production it opened at the Uijeongbu Arts Center in Korea last month. This was its India premiere.

The story was a pretty patchwork of all the fairy tale staples: a good brother and a bad one. Goblins and chatty birds. Big families and bigger hearts. Although it's based on a Korean folk tale, the play balances on values shared across cultures: the importance of family, friends and honesty. The cast was bright and spirited, high on energy and enthusiasm.

They were however let down by the text, which seemed to have lost its essence in translation, coming across as rather trite. This was especially obvious during the songs, which tended towards clumsy, charmless commandments. Sample: “Do not waste food/ Do not throw away food/ Food is important.”

Nevertheless, the children were appropriately adorable. If they did eat up their dialogues every once in a while, it was easy to forgive. Mostly because this production, directed by Kevin Kim from Korea along with Hans Kaushik, was constructed so it had multiple lures: evocative music, dramatic sets, cute costumes and emotion so potent it soared above dialogue.

Colourful presentation

Troi, the German production, presented in association with the Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, was directed by Martina Van Boxen and just featured two actors Michael Habelitz and Roderik Vanderstraeten. Although it was designed primarily for children between the age of three and six, it was such a seductively colourful piece of theatre, it captivated every age group in the audience — convenient since three year olds are necessarily accompanied by parents and/ or siblings.

The story was about the son of a painter, who leaves his father to explore the world. His adventures lead him through dense forests, towering mountains, blazing deserts and the North Pole, all conjured up with music and live painting. He meets some wonderfully eccentric characters along the way, including a rather hip bird in sunglasses, a swaggering giant and a giggly Eskimo girl. The two actors switched deftly between roles, hypnotically juggling various instruments, easels and props.

We hear this was the duo's first performance in English, a significant achievement given how intricately the script's been woven together, with long strings of onomatopoeic words and twisting adjectives. The translation is astute, resulting in a production that is as much fun to listen to and deconstruct as it is to watch.

Although some schools did bring their students to the Museum Theatre for the shows, it's a pity the seats weren't sold out. Good theatre's a wonderful tool for learning: it certainly beats plopping a kid in front of the television to pick up mannerisms from the likes of SpongeBob Square pants. Ayesha Rau's determined to make this festival an annual affair: Next year, take your kids.

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Arts, Entertainment & EventsMay 14, 2012