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'Romeo and Juliet' meets football in World Cup street show

By Hamilton Wende and David McKenzie, CNN
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Soccer larger than life via puppets
  • "The Giant Match" is a World Cup-themed play by street performers
  • Aim is to create artistic spectacle that reflects excitement of tournament
  • Storyline is a South African take on Romeo and Juliet
  • Traveling actors are taking play to townships untouched by World Cup

Scotch Farm, South Africa (CNN) -- The bright morning sun lights up the children's faces as they watch the large trucks and buses maneuver through the narrow streets of the township of Scotch Farm on the outskirts of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape.

Their eyes are a mix of bemusement and delight as they watch the band of strange, but enthusiastic adults pour out of the vehicles with a vast array of cardboard boxes and lumpy bags.

The people of Scotch Farm have benefited very little from the World Cup being hosted in their country. Poverty and unemployment are massive problems in this community and opportunities are scarce.

That is exactly why this collective of French and South African artists has come here. The show is called "The Giant Match" and it aims at creating an artistic spectacle to match the excitement of the world's biggest soccer tournament.

"This is street theater," says Christof Evette, the director, "this is the main idea, let's go to perform where the people are. We are not waiting for the audience to come; we are coming to the audience. We need to reclaim the streets."


These kids have never seen anything like it -- and within the hour their vision of the world has been transformed as 30 giant puppets tower over them silhouetted against the winter sky.

The storyline is a South African take on a "Romeo and Juliet" theme with the conflict between the two families being finally worked out through a football game.

The band of drums and trumpets strikes up a stirring tune and the huge puppets move their limbs and spin and begin to dance through the garbage-strewn streets.

The children and their parents follow them in an excited crowd laughing, cheering and dancing too.

"I never saw something like this before," says an old man smiling as the puppets swirl past him.

"We don't get this kind of thing here. It's good for the kids to see it; they are learning something they never knew about."

A central character is the ball, named Jabulani, like the World Cup match ball, and like the much maligned Jabulani of the field, the character in the play has a mind of its own.

Inside that mind is James Ntsane, an actor from the Johannesburg area who has traveled with the group all the way here.

"I am playing a soccer ball," he laughs. "You call it the Jabulani ball. It's fast; it's cool. When you get inside this you just forget about other stuff, you just be the soccer ball."

Still, the role has its drawbacks: "You don't mind that people are kicking you around all the time," he muses. "But sometimes, they kick me hard."

But the laughter and the joy among the people of Scotch Farm as they watch the spectacle unfold before them are a rich reward for these actors.

Isaac Sithole, the troupe's spokesperson, grew up in an underprivileged area during apartheid, when opportunities were limited for black children like him.

"It is a great honor," he explains as he puts the finishing touches to his enormous paper-mache puppet.

"Because it is that thing that you wish that someone could have done for you while you were in the township, while you hardly had any information.

"But you knew that there was something you liked out there, but you never got a chance for someone to expose you to it."

Then he straps himself in to his puppet, picks up the plastic rods that move its arms and legs and whirls out into the streets to bring a touch of magic to children who never knew it existed before he and his fellow actors came to fill their streets with music, color and fantasy.

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