One needs to sometimes remind oneself that the National English Literature Museum (NELM), which is tucked away in suburban West Hill of Grahamstown, is not as young as it looks. Sporting various displays and venues, NELM has been part of the City of Saints since the early 1970s. And during the National Arts Festival, it will be playing host to a company and cast that knows a thing or two about children’s theatre.
Now in its 14th year of operation, the Eastern Cape’s very own Ubom! Theatre Company presents the tale of Zina and the Songbird. Directed by Luvuyo Yanta and written by Brink Scholtz in collaboration with the original cast, it tells the story of a princess who helps a young songbird to sing so that it can bring back rain to the drought-ridden kingdom.
Immediately the production gets points for being topical: South Africa is currently experiencing one of the worst water shortages in recent history. The fact that this issue is being highlighted for a young audience is not only essential, but it is done so with the spirit and excitement that Ubom! has become renowned for.
They have are also known for the variety of performance techniques that they employ to tell their story as seen in Zina and the Songbird. The production makes effective use of puppetry and physicality to set the scene for a simple yet important subject.
I cannot say that adults will get much out of the production, but this is a definite must-see for younger audiences attending the festival.
Zina and the Songbird will be performing on 1 July and 6-8 July at the NELM Theatre.
By Samuel Spiller