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THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT WENT TO SEE (article first published : 2008-05-10)

In 1845, Edward Lear wrote A Book of Nonsense complete with his own limericks and illustrations for the grandchildren of his patron, the Earl of Derby. Among these was his delightful nonsense poem The Owl and the Pussycat which was written in 1871. As the rhyme goes, they “went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat” and “took some honey, and plenty of money wrapped up in a five-pound note.”

The aim of this adventurous nautical exercise was to find someone to marry them. Two problems existed – where to find a vicar or a ring in the middle of the ocean? They “sailed away, for a year and a day, to the land where the bong-tree grows; and there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood, with a ring at the end of his nose.” Purchasing the pig’s ring for a shilling solved one problem before a turkey who lived “on the hill” came along who was empowered to conduct the all-important ceremony.

Over a century later, an enchanting musical play based on Edward Lear’s verses and stories - and featuring many of his well-known characters - was created by Sheila Ruskin and David Wood, the latter producing the music and the lyrics. It was titled The Owl and the Pussycat Went To See … and in 1970, a long-playing record was published by Philips featuring none other than top British performers Harry Secombe as the narrator, Roy Castle as Owl and Hattie Jacques as Pussycat.

DUT Lecturer Robin Singh has taken this delightful musical and directed it for the Durban University of Technology with mainly third-year students of the Department of Television, Drama & Production Studies. It’s a good choice as it involves at least 30 students who are given a chance to work in the challenging field of children’s theatre.

Brian Khawula and Nomonde Matiwane lead the cast with consistent performances as the fussy Owl and the enchanting Pussycat. They receive good support from Siyabonga Myende as The Dong with the Luminous Nose and Bandile Mkhize as Quangle Wangle. Deserving a mention are Sixolile Fundzo and Sheila Madiya as Mr and Mrs Canary as well as Nombulelo Khumalo as The Pig and Samantha Moore as Dong’s Jumbly Girl.

Providing most of the comedy delights were Mzukisi Miti as Professor Bosh, Sherlynne Claassen as The Runcible Spoon, Shona Johnson who was a deliciously ferocious Plum Pudding Flea and Samson Mlambo as the vague turkey with a tendency to spoonerism!

The Owl and the Pussycat Went To See … involves a fair amount of knockabout and, for this kind of comedy to be appreciated by both youngsters and adults alike, it needs to be slick, well-timed and sincerely presented. You can’t pull the wool over youngster’s eyes – they won’t be compromised and their outlook is smarter, clearer and more demanding than ours. Looking around and listening to the response from tonight’s audience at the Courtyard Theatre with all ages delighting at the comedy and entering into the fray with gusto, I would say that Robin has proved himself a fine director of children’s theatre.

Much kudos must go to Dana Hadjiev who handled the humorous and spirited piano accompaniment, particularly as a lot of the time she had to play by feel as her eyes were occupied in linking with the stage action! The costumes and props are a delight and Luke O’Gorman’s lighting is sensibly placed. The production could stand on its own in mainstream theatre, the only requirement would be stronger vocal projection in the songs.

The Owl and the Pussy Cat went to See runs at the Courtyard Theatre, Mansfield Road, DUT campus from May 7 to 10 with a performance on May 10 at 14h00. Tickets R15 at door. More information from Ronicka Sirputh on 031 373 2194. – Caroline Smart




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