Of Sugarbush, mice and men

Rob van Vuuren performs in the children’s show, Florence and Watson and the Sugarbush Mouse, in Grahamstown, Saturday, 2 July 2016, at the National Arts Festival. The play is an adaption of the children’s book as told by two honey badgers. It tells of a little mouse who has special talents to pollinate flowers in a desperate time of need. (Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi vanVuuren)

Sitting in the audience of Florence and Watson and The Sugarbush Mouse, fielding off sideways glances from concerned parents as the lone figure in the back row, I’m struck by a wobbly, unexpected shot of nostalgia.

As the husband-and-wife team of Rob van Vuuren and Danielle Bischoff welcome excited children, I find myself sitting in Durban’s Playhouse Loft, alongside my mother, age six. The room is dark, the air is stale, and I’m about to fall in love with theatre for the first time. Today, almost two decades later, the couple in front of me is conjuring the same excitement I felt back then, engaging the audience with an impressively diverse cast of characters.

The story, a playful personification of African animals set on Table Mountain, is voiced solely by Van Vuuren and Bischoff, aided by a host of intricate beadwork sculptures. The inclusion of song complements the sparkling stage props, drawing an eager audience into a tale interspersed with environmentallyconscious lessons. Even I feel a tug – at heartstrings that my beard and tattoos insist aren’t there anymore. Scanning the crowd of lively children and their smiling guardians, it occurs to me that Bischoff and Van Vuuren’s energetic performances reflect a genuine excitement at the opportunity to induct a new generation into the fantastical realm that is the stage.

Van Vuuren, whose stand-up annually forms a staple of the Festival’s fringe programme, is mindful to incorporate subtle nods to the adults in attendance, invoking ubiquitous South African personas that are guaranteed to elicit wry smiles.

Throughout Florence and Watson and the Sugarbush Mouse, I am inescapably confronted by learned nemeses: melodrama, garish face-paint and a nonexistent fourth wall. Except, this time, the cacophony echoes a long forgotten invitation to my fellow patrons, one that was extended to me in that dusty loft over a decade ago: Look at this space, look at this magic. You’re a part of it too.

By Yasthiel Devraj