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THE SECRET OF MRS MOPPET’S GARDEN (article first published : 2007-03-31)

An hour-long play to delight all ages, including the tinies around me at today’s performance, Mrs Moppet’s Garden has a strong message about good deeds. Mrs Moppet – who we never see but whose presence is felt by her empty chair, book and reading glasses – has become too old and frail to look after her garden herself. Three schoolchildren suddenly invade her property on a jaunt of curiosity and find themselves trapped. The way out is in their hands.

The three main characters are all played by graduates of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Drama Department who have been busy working since the end of their varsity years. Remember the names. They’re the new kids on the block and they’re making their presence felt on the local theatre scene with great gusto.

As the feisty self-opinionated worry-pot Paula, Danielle Perlman brings much energy and childlike charm to the role. She has just played Ophelia in the Actor’s Co-op’s long-running season of Hamlet. An actress of considerable depth and talent with strong vocal ability, she is versatile and capable of a wide range of emotions.

The adventurous Eric is played by Sean de Klerk who appeared in My Fair Lady as one of Doolittle’s sidekicks and, in fact, looks like he’s brought his costume with him! A young man of many faces and moods, his eagerness in the role is infectious and he also makes a delightful Timothy Treetop, encouraging Carlton to “pull up a root”, sit down and listen to advice.

Brett Kyle plays the solid Carlton, he who hyperventilates at the mention of food when his tummy is empty! I have seen Brett in numerous UKZN dramas but he impressed me most in the 2005 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a “strapping and amusing” Nick Bottom. He has a good underplayed sense of comedy timing which will stand him well in the future.

Adding to the considerable talents of these youngsters is the play’s scriptwriter, actress Janna Ramos Violante. She appears as a glittering, crinoline-clad fairy of the garden – all ringlets, bows and ribbons. She plays Isadora - a delicious choice of name – who looks after the garden and has had to deal with complaints from the inhabitants of the area at the crass behaviour of the intruding threesome. The general of the army ants has an issue with the fact that the three youngsters sat on top of their ant-hole and Louisa Ladybird has filed an injured-on-duty report that Carlton’s lunchbox (empty!) landed on her head!

Fairy Isadora sets out to explain to the young people that they have to stay in the garden until they do a good dead. So the trio sets about cleaning up the garden and learning a valuable lesson about what a big difference a small deed can make.

Cara Markowitz’s set is an enchantment. Skilfully put together, it is draped with hessian and adorned with shining ivy, fairy lights, a nice solid toadstool to sit on as well as flowers and plants and a multitude of little creatures like birds and butterflies. It even has the sophistication of a small revolving piece, nog al! Several puppets make their appearance, including the adorable giggly Chester, drawn from the KickstArt stable.

Mrs Moppet’s Garden is suitable for younger children - from three upwards and runs at the Catalina Theatre from April 1 to 15 at 11h00. Tickets R45 pp include a boat ride round Durban Harbour (R30 show only). Tickets available online at www.strictlytickets.co.za or at www.catalinatheatre.co.za – Caroline Smart




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