Home-grown kids' books brought to life on stage

Fatimah And Her Magic Socks is a theatrical adaptation of a children's book of the same name, written by playwright Zizi Azah.
Fatimah And Her Magic Socks is a theatrical adaptation of a children's book of the same name, written by playwright Zizi Azah.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

They are well-known names on Singapore's theatre circuit, but few know they have also penned books for children.

This year, theatre practitioners Zizi Azah and Natalie Hennedige will see their lesser-known stories for little ones brought to the stage.

An adaptation of Zizi's book Fatimah And Her Magic Socks is ongoing at the Esplanade, while Hennedige will be directing a stage version of her book Koko The Great in August.

Both were commissioned for PLAYtime!, the Esplanade's self-produced series of interactive theatre productions for two to four year olds.

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Playwright Zizi, 36, wrote Fatimah And Her Magic Socks in 2009, when she had first become artistic director of theatre company Teater Ekamatra.

  • BOOK IT/ FATIMAH AND HER MAGIC SOCKS

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Tomorrow, 11am and 4pm; Friday, 9.30am and 11am; Saturday, 4pm; Sunday, 11am and 4pm

    ADMISSION: $20, excludes booking fees, from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: www.esplanade.com/festivals-and-series/playtime/2017

    KOKO THE GREAT

    WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    WHEN: Aug 11 to 27; weekdays, 9.30 and 11am; weekends, 11am and 4pm except Aug 26, 4pm only; shows daily except Aug 14, 15, 21, 22 and 23.

    ADMISSION: $20, excludes booking fees, from Sistic

The character of Fatimah, an inquisitive little girl with a mind of her own, had been created for her 2006 play, How Did The Cat Get So Fat?, Teater Ekamatra's general manager at the time, Mr Anuar Mohamed, liked Fatimah so much that he suggested she get her own book.

In the book, which is illustrated by Zizi's husband Izmir Ickbal, Fatimah meets a magical lion called Mr Minismen and travels with him.

Zizi, who has a daughter aged seven, says she was hesitant at first about bringing Mr Minismen to the stage as a speaking character. "In my mind, he is so magical that I could not imagine him as a flesh- and-blood being."

In the hands of director Daniel Jenkins, however, she feels he has evolved into quite a lovable character. She is also delighted by Wong Chee Wai's set, which gives the audience the feel of being inside a circus tent.

She says: "Children have the capacity to be enchanted and swept away in ways that adults no longer can."

Hennedige, 42, who is single, was inspired to write Koko The Great in 2011 after seeing Singaporean artist Liu Kang's oil painting Life By The River in the National Art Gallery.

She worked with local illustrator Twisstii on the book about a young boy's kampung adventures as he tries to make it across the river.

Bringing the world of Koko's wild imagination to life is a new challenge for theatre company Cake, where Hennedige is the artistic director. They are working on ways to transform a mangrove tree into a giant and to have a kampung house open up to reveal its detailed interior and Koko asleep inside.

"Children carry within them both darkness and light," says Hennedige. "There is something deeply poetic in their simple daily expressiveness."

The Esplanade's head of children and youth, Ms Chua Lik Ling, says the series aims to raise awareness of local literary talent. "We have a wealth of literature for young children written by Singapore authors, but not many know this."

She adds: "These stories were chosen for their imaginative and endearing qualities and strong narratives, and we also thought they had good theatrical potential when adapted for the stage.

"We hope that our efforts will encourage more parents to introduce and read these stories by our Singapore artists to their young ones."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Home-grown kids' books brought to life on stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe