Red Boots is on at Theatre Arts in Observatory as part of its season of Theatre in The Dark. I saw this beautiful piece last weekend – Feb 24, 2024 and it is on again this weekend- March 2 and 3 at 10am. It is sold out. However, you can catch this exceptional play on March 18, noon at The Playhouse in Strand as part of Margot Wood’s Into the Woods Inclusive Festival. And then Red Boots is off to KKNK in Oudtshoorn.

Red Boots is enchanting theatre. In the main, it is non-verbal – with comedic physical theatre, clowning, cirque, sign language, sound, melody. It is a play and there is playing. The puddle becomes a cloud. Here is a video to give a sense of the magic physical performance: There are big/adult red boots and baby boots. Natural light in the room casts a glow on the performance space which is a playground of wonder and adventure- with the forming of friendships, sharing and caring. It is a space for the transfiguration of the commonplace – big wellington boots disappear and small ones appear. Like magic! Red Boots embraces the loss of things and the finding of others; the importance of connection and working together to balance, in the puddles of life- and enjoying the rain and clouds and sheer wonder of life; finding joy in unexpected situations. There is joy in the ordinary – locating treasure – a red Wellington boot – even if it is the wrong size- oh the delight getting it onto one’s feet. Sometimes one needs help from others. One is alone and then one finds others to be friends with and this is what we need in this world of ours: To have and to hold, to love and be loved.  Love. Love. Loved Red Boots.

Red Boots is a play for young children – age 1-3. It was created by Andile Vellem, Caroline Calburn and Jori Snell. Direction is by Caroline and design is by Jayne Batzofin. It took ten years to build this piece and this is evidenced in this astonishingly polished piece of theatre. I seem to be using the words “impeccably crafted” a lot in writing about Theatre in The Dark but yes, the care that has been lavished in this piece is evidenced in the seamless integration of movement and narrative and detail in the design and props- for example, the red wellies. Caroline told me that they were unable to find red wellington boots – adult size – in South Africa and they had to hunt online. The small wellies were bought at Starke Ayes Nursery in Cape Town.  Baby wellies bought in a nursery – love that. The adult wellies arrived just in time for the show premiere.

Caroline said that the inspiration or Red Boots was a children’s book that she read to her daughters: Gossie- by Olivier Dunrea- about a little duck- gossie- (gosling) who has a pair of red boots. “He loves them and goes everywhere in them and one day, he loses them and when he finds them, they are on another ducklings feet.” Both Caroline’s daughters loved the book and they loved their wellington boots. The book was the starting point for Red Boots – the play.

Red Boots speaks to the young tots and beyond that, it is embedded with nuances for grownups. Play is something we can all relate to and the performers have brought this play to life – with verve, whimsy and tenderness. There are shades of Vaudeville in the way the boots are played with – absolutely enthralling to watch – these two artists in action.

Andile Vellem and Jori Snell ignite energy, humour, and joy into this delightful play – cantilevered in many directions. They are both dancers and choreographers and work across genres in theatre and dance.

Andile Vellem was born as a hearing person. He lost his hearing, after a bout of mumps at the age of five. Watching him connect with the young audience was incredible to watch. There is no audience participation in the usual sense as we tend to find in theatre for small people with prompts like: “Hello children…” Vellem and Jorie use gesture and physical movement to connect at all times with the youngsters. At times, tots wandered into the performance space and they got a high-five or were included in some way. The improv skills of Vellum and Snell are remarkable.

Jori Snell is a physical performing and visual artist, who hails from Holland/Denmark. She works extensively with physical theatre, contact improvisation (CI), butoh/martial arts and visual arts. Watching Andile and Jori play in the puddle in Red Boots, is thrilling theatre. It is highly conceptual.. Rather than a linear narrative, there are images, sound, movement. The young audience was enthralled. I hope that Red Boots will be staged for a longer season so that the play will be eligible for nomination for the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards. Red boots is innovative, thrilling, exceptional theatre for tots and older folk.

Jori Snell’s The Heart of the Ocean is on this weekend at Theatre Arts, as part of Theatre in The Dark – March 2 and 3 at 2.30pm. Tickets for Theatre in the Dark – available online at Follow Theatre Arts on Instagram and Facebook 

Red Boots. The boots used in Red Boots, directed by Caroline Calburn. The play premiered at Theatre Arts, Theatre in the Dark. The perfomers are Andile Vellum and Jori Snell- both are dancers/choreographers. Pics by Robyn Cohen/TheCapeRobyn, Feb 24, 2024, Theatre Arts.

✳ Red Boots – pic by Robyn Cohen/TheCapeRobyn, Feb 24, 2024, Theatre Arts, Theatre in the Dark.