Theatre review: Rondebosch Boys High’s stinging immersive experience of Mike Van Graan’s Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Metaphors

What: Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Metaphors by Mike van Graan
Where: Rondebosch Boys High School, Cape Town
When: October 30 and 31, 2021
Cast: Rondebosch Boys High School students
Directors: Lauren Snyders and Shaun Gabriël Smith  

There are times when one attends theatre and one is blown away – surprised, engaged, shocked and engrossed on all levels. I was privileged to attend a performance of Mike van Graan’s play Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Metaphors, staged by Rondebosch Boys High School in Cape Town. This play is signature Mike van Graan – acerbic, satirical, unflinching and darkly humorous- ultimately poignant and moving. Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Metaphors  is a stinging trip as it rips through GBV [gender based violence], poverty, hunger, climate change, carbon emissions, corruption, elections and poses that ultimately it is down to us to do something –personally, politically; individually  and collectively. The staging by Rondebosch Boys High School is remarkable – an immersive theatre experience, with the audience following the young actors on a journey through classrooms in the school. It is not what I would have expected as a school play. This production, co-directed by Lauren Snyders and Shaun Gabriël Smith could and should be presented at festival such as Infecting the City– as a site responsive piece. Watching this play, staged in Cape Town, on the weekend before the local elections, it reverberates chillingly in terms of the apathy I see around me, with so many people telling me that they are not bothering to vote. Is it apathy or despair? To add to that, tomorrow – November 31- is the start of COP26 – the 2021 – the United Nations climate change conference- taking place in Glasgow, Scotland until November 12. I googled and I don’t see any high ranking delegates from South Africa, in attendance at COP [Conference of the Parties]. Well, we have an election coming up, so presumably, COP wasn’t on the agenda.

When Mike van Graan wrote Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Metaphors, Covid was not in the frame. During the pandemic, “issues” like GBV and climate change have been side-lined to an extent, with poverty and hunger foregrounded. Of course everything is intertwined in Rona, things have got a lot worse and so has apathy and despair. Van Graan was commissioned by the University of Pretoria to produce a play on the theme of the Sustainable Development Goals, during his residency at the university in 2019. The result was Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Metaphors. The play premiered at The National Arts Festival in 2019 and won a Standard Bank Ovation Award. It was staged that same year at The Hilton Arts Festival – to wide acclaim. Then Covid arrived.  This year – 2021- The IEB [Independent Examinations Board] prescribed the play for study at IEB schools. This week, when I received an invitation by Shaun Gabriël Smith to attend one of the performances, I thought – “okay a school production with a play by Mike van Graan that I have not seen, cool.” In a series of voice notes on WhatsApps, Smith told me about the approach and staging in classroom at the school and I realised that this was not going to simply be a school play in a theatre.

It was an inspired choice by the directors to stage the play in classrooms in the school. The play is a howl and appeal for us to take heed of the mess we are in. In this production, we are at school, with the young actors and we are being instructed in the perils of a fairy tale which has gone rancid. Is the big bad wolf the villain or is he what he is because he has lost his natural habitat – with carbon emissions and whatnot eroding his forest? The politician wolf quips that if we want safe affordable homes with running water and electricity, we should vote for him. Little Red riding Hood is a Greta Thunberg type activist, urging us to listen up and not go into a blah blah rant of doing nothing. Red Riding Hood as Mother Earth has no rights in court. She has been violated and plundered and has not been able to arrive “safe” at her grandmother’s house. The three little piggies build their homes as best as they can, in the slums in the city; in a city “that doesn’t sleep to avoid history that does not reap “. Hopefully there won’t be home invasion by the wolf but violence is everywhere and no one is safe. We are left with musings by the Bard and – what happens next, is up to us- sings the chorus of young actors. A brilliant production of a brilliant play.

Theatre in classrooms: The audience sitting in a classroom. October 30, 2021, Rondebosch Boys High School’s staging of Mike van Graan’s Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Metaphors.

❇ Image credits © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, October 30, 2021, Rondebosch Boys High School’s Staging of Mike van Graan’s Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Metaphors. For more images see TheCapeRobyn