Dragons firing up the heart

Kaylee McIlroy and Mpilo Nzimande in How to Train Your Human, a new children’s play about dragons and matters of the heart.

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Stage: How To Train Your Human
– Shongweni Market Theatre at Shongweni Farmers’ and Craft Market
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
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HUGE applause for management at the popular Shongweni Farmers’ and Craft Market for having taken the recent decision to support the arts in such tough and increasingly trying times.

In just two weeks, a sturdy, barn-like theatre with five rows of sloped seating, facing a 12m long and 3.6m wide stage, has risen in the sprawling children’s entertainment area at the far end of the market grounds.

The yet-to-be-named venue still has finishing touches to be done, but no time has been wasted – at the weekend a new play by one of Durban’s most exciting playwrights and the king of stage lighting, Michael Taylor-Broderick, made its official debut there, under his Theatresmiths production banner. Hooray for that!

Taylor-Broderick, who gave us the altogether different Jakob, The King of Broken Things and the whimsical One Man, One Light, all of them magical and superb productions, has created his first play for children. How to Train Your Human, as a lesson on life, emotions and love, is a colourful tale inspired by the How to Train Your Dragon animated movies and also the Gary Chapman book, Five Love Languages for Children.  

At Saturday’s opening of the show, children and their parents were ushered through the theatre door by two teen ballerinas, both pretty in pink, and each patron was handed a cardboard dragon mask on a stick – a godsend in the 35C heatwave that day, as it also doubles as a fan.

The masks are for visitors to become dragons in the audience, the premise being that we are all attending a seminar for dragons, led by energetic and sometimes-squabbling trainer dragons Hadeda (pronounced NOT like the bird of the same name, she insists) and Nerc.

Both are in caped costumes depicting dragon tails and wings. Hadeda is played with zest, confidence, good articulation and a winning smile by Kaylee McIlroy, another talented offspring of Durban theatre darlings Aaron McIlroy and Lisa Bobbert;  while Nerc is portrayed with usual aplomb and a keen sense of mischief by tall and amusing Mpilo ‘Straw’ Nzimande, a stalwart of a good few local naughty pantomimes.

Both McIlroy and Nzimande have also been performing recently in the touring production of Horn of Sorrow, a Hilton Arts Festival-commissioned nature conservation piece.

Hadeda and Nerc first arrive on stage to deliver a fun rap song that ends with blasts of smoke, but note that this is the closest we get to any fire-breathing from these dragons because, as is conveniently and cleverly pointed out many times in the script, one cannot use fire in a theatre.

Mpilo Nzimande, Kyran Taylor and Kaylee McIlroy in How to Train Your Human. Picture by Val Adamson.

After Hadeda and Nerc welcome us to the seminar we are advised that unless humans start believing more in the existence of dragons they are likely to disappear forever. Then, when it is discovered that there is a human among the audience – young newcomer Kyran Taylor – the boy is pulled on stage for interrogation and examination.

Hadeda and Nerc set about fixing potions for him before they decide to take a thorough look at and into his heart – a ball of red fabric attached to a length of red elastic. They physically remove it and set about pummeling it into better shape, with special attention to five important rules for caring, love and contentment from which every creature can benefit.

As usual with Taylor-Broderick productions, attention to detail in the set is paramount, it here being a delightful hodge-podge of lecture room and laboratory, with the mix of bits and bobs on stage including metres of silver piping, bottles and containers filled with different coloured liquids, background cogs and wheels, drills, buckets, a saw, jumper-leads and even a dentist’s chair that is wheeled on to act as a lab slab.

Taylor-Broderick’s script has much witty word-play and particularly delights little ones with the on-stage creation of potions that can include anything from dog vomit, dungbeetle juice and crushed snail shells to pickled monkey sweat and slug slime.

The show might benefit from a little editing to make it run a wee bit short of its current 45-minute running time without an interval, but this remains a charming new slice of theatre for the young of all ages. Full of surprises, fun and slapstick, it is so super-deserving of success.

Conceived, written and directed by Taylor-Broderick, who also created the set, the production has Brandon Bunyan of Black Coffee Productions as technical advisor.

Final performances have been scheduled for 10am and 12 noon on Thursday (Reconciliation Day, December 16) and also at those times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (December 17 to 19). Two performances at 10am and 12 noon are also scheduled for Saturday, January 8.

Tickets cost R70 throughout and seating is unreserved. Book at Quicket or pay for your ticket at the venue on the day.

Get to Shongweni a little early and enjoy one of the finest and most popular markets around, offering an excellent mix of novel stall items and great food choices. The address is Lot 457, Mr551, Shongweni, in the Valley of 1000 Hills. Visit: www.shongwenimarket.co.za


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