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  • Grace Sansom

Anna Hibiscus' Song: A beautiful imagining of how to celebrate life’s little pleasures

Julius Obende (Papa) and Dorthea Darby (Grandmother, Ben, Uncle Tunde) in Anna Hibiscus’ Song. Photo by Chris Saunders.

Ah, isn’t it always a joy to wander into the Crucible’s foyer! For this particular afternoon’s production, at the Playhouse downstairs, this joy was amplified by the many little faces and persons bustling around the building. Anna Hibiscus’ Song is a children’s production, co-created by the dynamic Utopia Theatre and Sheffield Theatres, hence why I was outnumbered by little ones. I was excited, relishing in the opportunity to watch this much anticipated performance through the eyes of them - my inner child if you will. I was in for a treat - a wholesome, nourishing and grounding treat. This production is good food for the soul.

As we were ushered into the Playhouse, we saw the five actors sat at floor level with our seats arranged around them. There was no barrier between story and audience; from the start, it was warm and immersive. They welcomed the children, parents and everyone into their world, which we soon learnt was Ibadan, Nigeria, to be exact… In a set full of vibrant primary colours, we see this is Anna Hibiscus’ home: the veranda, the cooking pots, the mango tree and pepper plant.

Based on Atinuke’s adored children's book, director Mojisola Kareem-Elufowoju has effortlessly weaved the story of little Anna, a young girl experiencing just too much happiness. She wants to learn how to control it, before she explodes into happy stars! (Shouldn’t we all embrace joy like Anna?!) She spends the day talking to her grandparents, aunty and uncle, cousins, and then parents to discover how they manage their happiness. This doesn’t help her though, as her affectionate, doting, but energetic family just multiply her happiness further.

The Company of Anna Hibiscus’ Song. Photo by Chris Saunders.

Through the course of the day, our little protagonist learns to be happy when still, through the power of reflection and singing her praise. When up in the mango tree, where our story first began, she sings to the birds and feels her happiness radiated back. It’s a beautiful moment.

Anna’s abundant wonder at the world is shown through the company’s genius puppetry. She is much smaller than the actors, making her happiness larger than life. Anna is puppeteered and played by Saskia Rose, who’s dreamy childlike innocence embodied every child in that studio space. As Anna discovers sheer joy in abundance, so did our little audience!

As well as delightful and expertly crafted puppetry, the story of Anna is told through song, dance and traditional African storytelling. It’s a full and bodied production, that got everyone up on their feet.

The Company of Anna Hibiscus’ Song. Photo by Chris Saunders.

Couldn’t we all take a leaf out of Anna’s book? Let’s relish life’s small pleasures and be happy whilst working, with the loved ones we see everyday and reflect on what is ordinary, but full of joy and stability. Utopia Theatre and Sheffield Theatres have created a wonderful show that will make you marvel at life’s wonder, and will stir happiness from your soul outwards - whatever your age.

Sheffield Theatre’s Playhouse often houses pure, unadulterated gems like this one. Do your inner child a favour - treat yourself to an afternoon in there. Let yourself be entertained, lifted up and you’ll leave feeling more faithful in the world around us. It’s a magical place like that…

Anna Hibiscus' Song is at the Playhouse until Saturday 15th July, tickets are still available.


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