Review: Once Upon a Time (Jacqui Du Toit & Origin Arts and Community Centre – Primetime Festival)

Jacqui Du Toit standing in front of Trees

Once Upon a Time is an African theatrical storytelling production performed and developed by Jacqui Du Toit. It’s part of the Primetime Festival. Something I like about a digital festival is I can see performances from places other than Toronto. We have the pandemic to thank for the growth of digital theatre.

Du Toit is from South Africa and now lives in Ottawa. Velvet Wells also performed from Ottawa. When Du Toit arrived in Canada 2011 she expected it to be multicultural but Ottawa was very white. There were no opportunities for actors of colour. One of the ways she made her own opportunities was as a storyteller.

In this piece she tells two stories; both are, in their own ways, creation stories with happy endings and easily identifiable morals.

She’s accompanied by Denis Kashi who chants and plays drums.

A good storyteller uses so much more than their voice to tell a story and Du Toit is a very good storyteller with a terrific voice. Her face is so mobile, her expression ever-changing. One second she’s smiling a big beautiful smile, the next she’s serious. Sometimes it’s as if she’s staring into my eyes, sometimes it’s as if she’s staring at something far away. She can look happy, sad, angry, arrogant, innocent, bossy, and pensive, whatever expression suits the mood of the story.

I’m fascinated by the way she uses her hands. Her fingers look unnaturally long, helped by her very long nails. She stretches her hands out, sometimes with the fingers apart, and they bend back slightly. When her arms are outstretched it’s as if she’s including the whole world in her story.

Her body is hardly ever still. She leans forward and backward, she walks toward the camera and away from it, she dances, the dancing is lovely.

The stage is small. The camera is where the audience would be. The walls on either side are black. It’s hard to judge but I would say that the space isn’t much more than about ten feet wide. It’s almost impossible to judge the length. Du Toit makes good use of the space, particularly when she’s dancing.

The show opens with a silent film of young Black African men dancing around a fire projected on the back of the stage. Seated in a semi-circle behind them are five or six women with babies, one of whom has the most gorgeous smile.

The film continues throughout Du Toit’s first story, so the fire, the dancers, and their audience are projected on to her. It amazes me that she can perform with it annoying her. It annoys me and I’m just watching.

It’s so nice to find something that family-friendly. There are a couple of times that Du Toit sounds scary but as long as there is someone to hug them if that happens I think even very young children would be fine with Once Upon a Time.

Details:

  • Once Upon a Time is part of the Primetime Festival
  • Performances are November 18 and 27, 2021 at 8:00 pm and November 21 at 2:00 pm
  • Tickets are pay what you can and range from $5 to $100
  • Tickets and passes are available online

Photo of Jacqui Du Toit provided by the company

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