Theatre Review: Peter Rabbit And Me – Hop To It, Or Pottering With Expectations

September 5, 2021

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Peter Rabbit And Me / Directed by Ivor Jones / National Children’s Theatre, Parktown, Johannesburg


Beatrix Potter would have been an incredible success story in any era, but as an English woman coming into her own towards the end of the Victorian era, she was astonishing, becoming a successful author and illustrator and, off the back of that success, an influential landowner and conservationist.

Her stories – the most famous of which remains The Tale Of Peter Rabbit – were borne of a privileged but claustrophobic childhood in which her well-to-do parents had her educated by governesses at home, without the stimuli provided by getting out and meeting other children and having a wider range of experiences. The young Potter’s imagination, fortunately for her and then for generations of readers, more than compensates for the shortfalls in her social opportunities, giving her another world in which to exercise her considerable intellect and develop her unique worldview. That she went on from there to self-publish and become a literary household name is aspirational material of the highest order.

This National Children’s Theatre production of Peter Rabbit And Me keeps an appropriately strong feminist thread running throughout the piece, but without ever being preachy. Among other things, it is simply noted that Potter’s (Robyn Evans) brother (Sandisile Dlangalala) is allowed – expected – to go off and receive a full education while she is confined to the nursery with her governess (Donae-Dalene Brazer), who, though caring and creative, can’t stretch her young charge far enough to get close to her full potential.

Beyond this, the other more serious themes on the script are those already well-known to fans of Potter’s stories – disobedience puts you at risk; exercise discernment in relationships; don’t get stabbed by farmers; all that sort of thing. Only a handful of the wider range of characters from the books are introduced – Peter and his family, plus Mr Fox, Mr Mouse (both of whom have other names in the books, if you’re a purist) and Jemima Puddle-Duck. The tales are pitched at children’s level – there’s not much of the knowing side-eye humour stuff – with gleefully energetic, interactive performances from the hard-working cast. Everyone is good, though the best audience reactions are arguably reserved for Marvin Kutlwana Molepo, whose Mr McGregor is a phlegmy, inept semi-psycho, a villain who makes you laugh.

Sweet, smart, educational and entertaining.

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