By SIBUSISO MKWANAZI
After witnessing the thought-provoking children’s play The Astounding Antics of Anthony Ant, audiences may be left with a host of questions that only National Children’s Theatre’s resident director Francois Theron can answer.
“How many animated films have you seen lately,” might be one, as Theron clearly takes a page out of that book by ensuring that little ones are thoroughly entertained and educated by the creative fluff – décor, costume design and choreography – while the older chaperones are probed by subtle cues regarding race, gender and socio-economic status.
Is it possible that while trying to be everything to everyone, Theron might get more tongues wagging than with his usual tales. Is this a good or a bad thing?
Is this a musical or a straightforward play, and most importantly, are those reflective vests and paperclips that the actors are wearing?
“Multi-layered” is probably the most accurate description of Theron’s version of Pieter Scholtz’s story, as it is easy to tell that he intentionally presented it like a trifle: something light on top for the core audience of young ones; something a little “meatier” for the adults to bite on in between and something for everyone right at the end.
The story is that of Ant-hony, an overachiever on a mission to save the colony from a mysterious can of poison that has the potential to end everyone’s lives. As soon as the show starts, he manages to convince characters such as Sybil-ant, Arrog-ant, Assist-ant and Mary-ant to assist him in eliminating the threat.
It is only when this clique starts to function as a unit that the older audience starts realising that there is a purpose to the yellow and green reflective jackets: to represent a racially diverse nation that often gets to concerned with what people look like, instead of focusing on who they are. We all have the same problems and only when we concentrate on what is common to us all and forget on our differences will we make headway.
As the children realise that red ants can be as good or bad as red ants, the older members of the audience receive a much-needed education around how being douche-bag has nothing to do with the colour of your skin. But the question will always remain: do the children in the audience ever realise what Theron is actually conveying?
The running joke during the entire show is how the cast works the word “ant” into most of their lines without, somehow, being corny. This is a function of a number of them being seasoned children’s theatre actors who have mastered of the arts of delivery and comic timing.
True to Francois Theron’s style, music is never too far away from the action, as contemporary songs such as Mi Casa’s Jika are followed by hot from Mango Groove, Bonnie Tyler and others.
Ethnicity, social standing and gender are unfortunately how the average South African is judged, as these are the very first attributes that people encounter before we can get a single word in. This production showcases what could happen when we let our guard down and engage with each other.