Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre remounts their Dora Award Winning play Baobab
Sometimes, there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching a crowd of kids be enchanted by theatre. Of course, it helps when the show manages to be enchanting to the adults in the audience as well. Baobab, a remount of the Dora Award-winning 2012 production for children 4-8, comes back to the Young People’s Theatre Studio from October 13-23. Watching it, I saw an audience captivated by a combination of skillful puppetry and visuals, lovely harmonies, and a gentle myth.
Written and directed by Hélène Ducharme, with English translation by Leanna Brodie, the production was created by Montreal’s Théâtre Motus in co-production with Troupe Sô from Mali. The story is simple: the sun gets jealous of the Earth’s children with the giant baobab tree, and refuses to set, drying out the land. A mysterious boy, Amondo, hatches from an egg that rolls, unbidden, into the centre of the village. Amondo will unite the village in his care, and will repay them by attempting to return the sun’s heart by completing arduous tasks.
All the actors are at home in their (multiple) roles, with Widemir Normil, as narrator, baboon and many others, in particular clearly having a blast. Audience interaction at the beginning and a few key moments during the show makes the kids feel special and engaged, without disrupting the flow of the narrative.
The puppetry is great, and full of surprises, whether it be characters popping out of unexpected places, a full-body bird outfit that resembles a spinning textile haystack, or the more realistic little boy at the centre of the tale, with his piercing dark eyes. My favourite puppet was ingeniously simple, a snake or lizard formed by two rattles, each displaying a large, reptilian eye. Shadow puppets and a few lighting effects are also simple yet effective, particularly when shadows appear in a wave of sand.
One of the things I really appreciated about the show was that it varied in intensity and pitch throughout. So much of children’s entertainment wants to be constantly loud and hyperactive, but unending noise can easily tire the viewer. Baobab plays with rhythm and volume. For example, as the audience arrived, marimba player Aboulaye Koné played gently, but occasionally, as if taken over by the music, showed his wild, flailing side. The children shrieked with delight, but their attention didn’t wane when he quieted down.
In Baobab, there are lovely Malian melodies, there is focused storytelling, riotous outbursts and fight choreography, but also moments of quiet contemplation. It’s nothing too serious, but there’s a valuable meditation on the value of community and not giving up. There are antagonists here, but they aren’t that scary. There’s a little innuendo, but nothing kids would get – they’re too busy laughing at the baboon guardian’s prominent red bottom.
Near the end of the play, there’s one of those small, quiet moments which is quite special, where an adult, discussing the need for courage, says the three magic words adults don’t say often enough.
The words are, “I don’t know,” and in them there is a lifetime of possibility, discovery, and hope. That quality of “I don’t know” is why we come to the theatre, and from the sounds of the crowd around me, many were already eager to return.
- Baobab is playing at the Young People’s Theatre Studio (165 Front Street East) until October 23, 2015
- The show is recommended for ages 4 and up
- Performances run: Tue. October 15 and Tue.-Thu. October 20-22 @ 10:30 AM & 1:30 PM, Fri. October 16 and 23 @ 10:30 AM, Sat. October 17 @ 2:30PM, Sun. October 18 @ 11:00 AM and 2:30 PM
- French language performance on Fri. October 16 at 10:30 AM
- Tickets range from $15-$34 + HST & service charges
- Tickets are available online at youngpeoplestheatre.ca or by calling the Box Office at 416.862.2222
Photo of Widemir Normil, Aboulaye Koné, Sharon James and Nathalie Cora by Robert Etcheverry