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WINNIE THE POOH (article first published : 2006-06-29)

OK. It’s revelation time. One of the most favourite tapes I play in my car on long journeys is Winnie the Pooh and I’m sure passing motorists must be somewhat mystified at the sight of an ageing blonde singing along lustily to the music of this delightful story! It’s a great boon through those long stretches through the Free State and on the way to Grahamstown, where I am headed tomorrow.

So I was delighted to go to the Playhouse this evening where KickstArt has brought the story of the Bear with Very Little Brain to life in their production of Winnie the Pooh in the Playhouse Opera. Justin Southey has written some easily accessible and hum-along original music to suit all ages and the cast responds well under musical director Dawn Selby. Steven Stead’s strong direction is evident in a show that is performed to a cheery, forest-like set by Greg King.

As Pooh Bear, Rowan Bartlett is suitably rotund, endearing and lovable. He is well-matched by his adorable but jittery side-kick Piglet, deliciously played with amusing little hops and skips by Carol Trench. Piglet’s bath scene with Kanga was a highlight.

Steven Stead made his professional debut playing Christopher Robin for NAPAC in 1982 and I was much impressed by young Jamie Royal who acquits himself confidently in this role (alternating with Daniel Botha). In the scene where Pooh is pretending to be a rain cloud, Jamie is virtually dwarfed by the large umbrella he carries!

I thought James Irwin had produced the definitive Eeyore way back in the 80’s but Peter Court is a delight as the ponderous lugubrious donkey, displaying cautious delight to see his name “in pink sugar” on the birthday cake. Lithe and well-focused, Michael Gritten brings much energy to the role of the exuberant Tigger. Anthony Stonier is a highly amusing and fussy Rabbit, Alison Cassells charms as Kanga and Wendy Watson is a suitably dithery Owl. In her largest role to date, Valentine Sterling-Court (alternating with Rebecca Bauristhene) was a sprightly baby Roo.

The rest of the cast who play a range of forest friends are to be commended for well-disciplined performances. They are (alternating on different nights) Zahra Bassa, Jesse Bauristhene, Maya Greyling, Holly Kay, Jordan King, Victoria Matter, Katie Morris and Navitha Singh.

As Pooh Bear arrives on the stage, the youngsters roar their welcome and are held captivated for the length of the production.

If there are any niggles, they would be that the sound was a bit erratic, strident and unprepared for the various squeals and shrieks which tended to blast the ear drums and, although the second half does deal with the poignant emotion of Eeyore’s lost house, it doesn’t match the vibrancy of the first act. However, this will not detract from the fascination and delight youngsters will enjoy from this production. Good to see a show like this coming back into mainstream theatre – all kudos to KickstArt and the Playhouse Company.

Winnie the Pooh is presented by KickstArt in association with the Playhouse Company in the Playhouse Opera until July 16 with performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 14h30 and Sundays at 15h00. There are shows at 18h00 on Fridays and Saturday.

Book at Computicket and early booking is advisable. Block bookings of 20 or more will receive a 10% discount. Tickets R65 (R50 pensioners and children under 12). You’ll be of Very Little Brain if you miss it! – Caroline Smart




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