Stunning ‘Snow Goose’

2014-09-10 00:00

PAUL Gallico’s beautiful novella The Snow Goose, is brought vividly to life on stage by James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett — and those heading to The Witness Hilton Arts Festival cannot afford to miss this stunning production.

The story of The Snow Goose has captured the hearts of young and old over the past seven decades.

Set on the desolate Essex marshes and against the background of the miracle of Dunkirk in World War 2, it tells the tale of a wounded, storm-tossed snow goose which brings a young girl, Fritha, and the recluse Philip Rhayader together in a moving story about love and courage.

I caught The Snow Goose at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and was captivated by the staging of this KBT production, which makes use of masks to portray the different characters in the piece.

Cairns, who grew up in Pietermaritzburg and is a Maritzburg College old boy, is looking forward to taking the play to Hilton.

He told The Witness that he and Bennett were commissioned to do the play by KBT Productions, run by Simon and Helen Cooper.

The couple, who also own and manage the Kalk Bay Theatre, have enjoyed great success with London Road, and Same Time Next Year, another play headed to this year’s Hilton Festival.

“The Snow Goose was something they remembered having read to them as children. It’s about an unlikely relationship and that’s something they have tackled before,” he said, adding that the masks were the brainchild of director Jenine Collocott.

“Jenine had just come back from doing a course at Hèlikos [Scuola Internazionale di Creazione Teatrale] in Florence, Italy, and they did a lot of mask there.

“The prose in The Snow Goose is quite sparse — the book comes from the Hemingway era when writing was either verbose or sparse, and Gallico did sparse. The masks force you to do things in a sparse way as well.”

The story in The Snow Goose is very poignant and moving, and Cairns admits he doesn’t mind the audience shedding a few tears. “If a lady isn’t crying in the front row at the end of the play then Tarryn says it’s not been a good show,” he added.

Asked if he would find time to catch any shows at Hilton, he said he definitely wanted to get tickets to Andrew Buckland’s show Tobacco, And The Harmful Effects Thereof. “I missed it in Grahamstown and have only heard good things about it.”

Otherwise you may find him enjoying the vibe accompanied by some four-legged friends. “We’ve just got some puppies so we will probably bring them down … we’ll introduce them to mist!”

Back home in Johannesburg, Cairns is involved in a new animated series called Silly Seasons, which makes use of motion-capture technology. It’s being made by Primedia’s digital wing and the actor reckons that the skills he’s had to use in The Snow Goose have come in very handy.

“We need to use almost the same performance skills as you do in mask work,” he explained. “It’s an awesome project to work on and I’m working with a great bunch of actors, most of whom are theatre actors.”

Cairns is also starting to work on projects for next year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

“We’re working a sequel to Three Little Pigs. It’s called Three Blind Mice and involves a commission of inquiry,” he said. “Rob [van Vuuren] and I are also thinking about doing Brother Number again.”

Three Little Pigs, which was staged at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival in 2012, has been a massive success for Cairns, Van Vuuren and Albert Pretorius, as well as director Tara Notcutt. The play is a taut psychological thriller set in a world where Animal Farm meets Reservoir Dogs and is a riveting and subversive adaptation of an age-old tale. The show has won several awards and enjoyed a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland last year. “We did three nights in Johannesburg recently which went really well … it’s such a Jo’burg show. It just works there and people really identify with it,” Cairns said.

• The Snow Goose will be in the Memorial Hall at 2.30 pm on September 19, 10 am on September 20 and 9.30 am on September 21. Tickets are R170. Book at

James Cairns in a scene from The Snow Goose. See full story below.




James Cairns is a performer, writer and director who works from Johannesburg.

His self-penned and directed The Sitting Man and Rat have toured all over South Africa to rapturous critical and audience acclaim.

Brother Number, which Cairns wrote and performed in with Rob van Vuuren, earned a Cape Comedy Awards nomination.

His short story Ossewa Mulaudzi won the Vlaams-Nederlands Huis de Buren’s ‘Writing Beyond the Fringe’ competition in 2009.

He was nominated for Fleur de Cap awards for his performance in both Nick Warren’s Dirt and his own The Sitting Man in 2011.

His Three Little Pigs with van Vuuren again and Cape Town company, Pink Couch, was invited to three international festivals in 2013.

He was included in the Mail & Guardian’s 2011 list of 200 young South Africans who you should take out for lunch.

He is also creative director and a founding member of Johannesburg Shakespeare company, The Framework and a regular performer for comedy improv group, Jittery Citizens.

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