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War Horse and Red Hill

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Last week, teenagers from Red Hill informal settlement met Joey, a horse, on the stage of the Artscape Theatre. Nothing could have prepared them, or us, for the impact.

Our group of nine boys assembled for a theatre workshop in Woodstock two days before the performance they were to attend. ‘Have all of you been to a theatre before?’ asked the facilitator. None of our boys moved. ‘Have you never been to a theatre?’ she asked them again. No.

Starting from that base, we spun into a theatre experience that was to change attitudes, ideas, thoughts … maybe even lives.

The whole thing was arranged, with meticulous care, by ASSITEJ, the international organisation that brings theatre and children together, and sponsored by Rand Merchant Bank. We salute them. Thirteen hundred children and teachers assembled on a Friday afternoon at the magnificent Artscape Theatre. They came in buses, taxis, private cars – and they came from everywhere; our boys sat in the row behind boys from Bishops, one of Cape Town’s most exclusive schools. The reaction was just the same. War Horse is like that.

Eleven Red Hill boys turned up at the Artscape (instead of the ten we had tickets for) and ASSITEJ accommodated them easily and with grace. Community worker Buyiswa Ponti was the accompanying adult and seats were found for driver Erica Jehoma and CBN's Rosemary Bangham. At the last minute, space was made for Lesley Beake, who had come to take the before and after pictures. The theatre was packed, the anticipation palpable. Everyone there had been prepared, briefed about the subject of the Great War of 1914 to 1918; the making of the horse puppets by Handspring Puppets, a Cape Town company.

And then Joey, as a foal, trotted onto the stage and the world shifted slightly as imagination worked its magic on what we all knew to be reality. There was a puppet, right? We could see the men working it, right? We knew what it was made of, right? But in thirty seconds it was real and so were the thirteen hundred pairs of hands coming together spontaneously in joy and delight. When the adult Joey made his arrival at the end of the scene, the audience went absolutely WILD! At the end of the performance they nearly lifted the roof off the Artscape. Everybody cried.

War Horse is a production of extraordinary power. It demonstrates, right there on a stage a few metres away, the power of love, the futility of war, the sadness of death. It has received enough rave reviews around the world not to need one here. What needs to be said HERE is that theatre and books make a difference. They make such an important difference that we all, each and every one of us, ought to rise to our feet as every child has done who has seen War Horse, and scream ourselves hoarse for the ideals that it represents. The most important of those is love, plain and simple. Just Love.

Please support organizations like ASSITEJ and all the other people and organizations bringing wings to children’s imagination. Stand up. Shout, if you have to.

For information about children’s books and reading organizations visit:
http://www.childrensbook.co.za/news/2013/07/24/friends-cbn
To find out more about ASSITEJ visit: Website: www.assitej.org.za

To offer help of any kind contact info@childrensbook.co.za or check our Facebook Page.
Our thanks to Rotary Cape of Good Hope, who sponsored the transport costs and snack lunches for our group.