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ADVENTURES ON A NARROWBOAT (article first published : 2002-04-2)

With 23 published children's plays behind him, Durban's Pieter Scholtz now turns his talents to another production for youngsters, this time an entertainment centred on his beloved mode of transport, a narrowboat, on which he lives for six months of each year in Britain, to escape South Africa's sizzling summer.

Having assembled a cast of four, himself included, he is presenting Adventures on a Narrowboat daily at 14h30 until Saturday, in his cosy converted-church theatre in Stamford Hill Road, near Game City.

Sadly, less than a dozen people attended the play's official opening, due in no small part to a severe lack of advertising. And one can only hope the situation has improved because, although far from being among Scholtz's best works for the young, this is a sweet, unpretentious and engaging play, which both informs and entertains. It's ideally suited to those aged seven and up. It opens with a blackboard and table on stage, to represent a school classroom. A teacher, Sir (Scholtz), an acerbic wit with a warm heart, arrives to hear what his Grade 3 pupils have come up with after being assigned the task of discussing transport in the 21st century.

Chatting to the audience as if they were his pupils, Sir then sits back to listen to three pupils - the confident Peter (Adhir Kalyan), his studious and short-sighted sister, Jem (Stacey Taylor), and the tom-boyish Sam (Shannon Kenny) - discuss their topic: narrowboat travel. Differing from a barge, a narrowboat, they explain, with the use of a large, to-scale prop, is extensively used in Britain's canals and rivers, which were built as a system of new trade routes at a time when roads were virtually non-existent.

So excited are members of the trio with their project that they ask Sir if they might rather miss the planned double-maths lesson the next day to instead stage a play they have penned which involves an adventure on a narrowboat.

Although not keen at first, Sir, who has long harboured aspirations of furthering his early acting career, changes his mind when he learns the children have also written a part for him. And so to interval, after which we have a river sprite, Tricksy (the dreadlocked Kenny in water-flippers and lycra suit), appearing before pigtailed Jem whenever she sings a ditty called The Narrowboat Blues.

Tricksy, after muttering magic words and rubbing a necklace, becomes invisible to all but her newfound friend, Jem, and the audience. This leads to fun from the sprite teasing and taunting Peter, and even more smiles when she foils the plan of a tattooed thug called Yobo (Scholtz again), who tries to steal from the children's narrowboat.

All performers give of their best, Taylor (seen recently in The Importance of Being Earnest) and Kalyan (the title character in Freddie the Frog's Xmas Bash) being obvious stand-outs. Highlighting much verbal interplay in the first half and some audience participation in the second, the play runs about 75 minutes, including an interval.

For bookings, contact the theatre on (031) 309-2236. - Billy Suter




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