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GRANDPA GRUMP & HIS MAGICAL JUNK SHOP (article first published : 2006-10-1)

Neil Coppen cut his teeth during his high school years acting with the late Dennis Rubin’s Durban Theatre Academy and he later starting writing for the popular Freddie the Frog series. His latest offering is Grandpa Grump and his Magical Junk Shop - a one-man show featuring the engaging Bryan Hiles - which has been running at the Catalina Theatre.

I finally managed to catch up with this show today at its final performance, having missed it at the MUSHO! Theatre Festival in January and at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival. However, plans are in hand to present the show over the festive season and if they come through, then it’s a must for young children under the age of ten. Accompanying adults will enjoy the delightful entertainment just as much. Bryan includes the odd self-deprecatory throwaway line which they will appreciate on a different level.

The set is a glorious chaotic mayhem of props – from ladders, lampshades and goldfish bowls to brooms, mops and laundry baskets. We are in Grandpa Grump’s dusty junk shop but the shop is currently closed because Grandpa Grump is in trouble. He’s not only lost his glasses, his false teeth and his granddaughter’s birthday present (a ragdoll named Molly) but also his imagination. The play’s storyline deals with his search for these valuable commodities – with the able and – often highly energetic – encouragement from the audience!

Grandpa Grump decides the only answer is to don a superman type of disguise – hilariously achieved through a tablecloth cape, a colander adorned with feathers and a pair of skants pulled over his trousers. Grabbing the mop as his faithful steed he gallops off around the audience in a wild and amusing search. Thanks to help from a pop-eyed cuckoo clock, a frantic orange goldfish and a Little Shop of Horrors (“Feed me, Seymour!”) type pedal bin, he discovers that Lulu has been captured by the dreaded Broom Dragon and that the Smelly Jungle Sock Drawer Serpent holds the keys. On the way, he has to find the Stinky Feet Tree – here he has the audience waving their feet in the air! Mr Stinky Socks turns out to be a lisping snake who gives him the keys.

The search for Boo the ferocious Broomstick Dragon creates much interest and you could have heard a pin drop while Grandpa Grump looks high and low for him. Boo is a very clever invention using a fishing rod bucket, googly eyes, a red tie tongue, some material and a couple of green feather dusters!

Entertaining for children requires a very high output of energy on a number of levels as you never know what’s coming from the audience next – and they refuse to be ignored! Bryan comfortably fields the enthusiastic response and helpful suggestions from the youngsters and they love him to bits. Despite ageing make-up, Bryan is still a very youthful looking actor and I do think a wild white wig – à la Albert Schweitzer – would have made his character more credible and added more to the comedy aspect.

Look out for Grandpa Grump and his Magical Junk Shop over the festive season. It is also available to tour to schools. Contact Margie Coppen on 083 251 9412. – Caroline Smart




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