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Sadako tugs at the heartstrings

Winner of the Handspring Puppet Company Award for Best Puppet Production in 2011, Sadako is ready to make its Cape Town debut at Baxter Theatre. I spoke to writer Peter Hayes and director Jaqueline Dommisse to find out more.

BizcommunityEY: How would you describe Sadako and the audience it is aimed at?

JD: An exquisite Bunraku puppet theatre play for adults and older children. Set in Japan, Sadako is a gently poetic story that is a breath of fresh air in complicated times. Moving beyond words, Sadako plays with notions of innocence and childhood and has that quality that makes the best children's literature classic: it treats childhood as an aspect of adulthood.

The work is about the life of a child, but is not intended to be exclusively for a children's audience. Hearts & Eyes Theatre Collective has created a play based on the true story of a remarkable child whose courage, hope and determination fires the imagination and uplifts adults and children alike.

The 12+ age group is often neglected in theatre. These young people have long shifted from looking at picture books to appreciating art galleries; from nursery rhymes to Lady Gaga. And if they are readers, then the Famous Five has made way on the bookshelf for real literature. At school, they may have experienced educational theatre and with their families, they may have been entertained by delightful musicals or pantomime. But what of cathartic and transformative theatre? The kind that is profoundly moving and thought provoking? We believe that Sadako is just this: real theatre for young people.

BizcommunityEY: What drew you to this story?

PH: Jaqueline and I met waiting tables in the early 1990s, and the first production was a co-production between Hearts & Eyes and Jaqueline's then company, The Puppet People.

Books and stories and a passion for theatre is the deep foundation of Jaqueline and my friendship, and professional partnership, and we had both read Eleanor Coerr's famous (if occasionally inaccurate) version of Sadako's story when we were children. When we were looking for a play to make together, the intention was a work for young audiences and Sadako's story came up.

The script was much thinner, and lacked a backbone of rigorous research, I directed, Jaqueline performed and LeeAnne van Rooi voiced and manipulated Sadako, and the puppets were simple five-string marionettes.

It was an enormous success critically, and with the few people who saw it, and we always dreamed of returning to the production - once Jaqueline joined me in Hearts & Eyes it became a periodic discussion!

The new production finally happened in 2011 - LeeAnne this time playing Sadako's mother, Mrs Sasaki - where the play premiered on The Main Festival at NAF. The brand new script by me is rooted in deep research - often made possible by the Internet, and more specially by The Peace Museum in Hiroshima. Jaqueline directed and magnificent Bunraku puppets designed by [2011 Standard Bank Young Artist] Janni Young. And the cherry on top was the blessing of Sadako's surviving family.

BizcommunityEY: And how do you think South African audiences will (or can) relate to the story of a Japanese girl?

JD: Some may ask how Sadako's life can be relevant to a contemporary young South African audience. Sadako's experience transcends culture and period; she speaks to a young person's anxiety of growing up in a world where the youth must contend with the consequences of the actions of adults: war, nuclear power, global warming, HIV. The legacy we leave our children is not always an easy one. Sadako's journey of hope in the face of devastating tragedy is a universal one.

Sadako (PG-10) is at Cape Town's Baxter Theatre from 30 July to 10 August. Tickets are available from Computicket. For more information, go to

Photography by Allison Foat

About Eugene Yiga

Eugene graduated from the University of Cape Town with distinctions in financial accounting and classical piano. He then spent over two-and-half years working in branding and communications at two of South Africa's top market research companies. Eugene also spent over three-and-a-half years at an eLearning start-up, all while building his business as an award-winning writer. Visit, follow @eugeneyiga on Twitter, or email moc.agiyenegue@olleh to say, um, hello.

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