Review: SADNESS AND JOY IN THE LIFE OF GIRAFFES

IN BRIEF Playful, compassionate exploration of a young girl’s grief brings more joy than sadness, expertly played and directed.

“This is my presentation…I hope you will not be bored”. A tall nine-year old girl, Giraffe (so nicknamed by “the woman that was my Mother”) prefaces her talk by defining a catalogue of words she has learned from her beloved dictionary. We are whisked into her home life, as her unemployed actor father faces too many bills and too little money. Giraffe’s favourite Discovery Channel (“not a luxury”, she chides us) is cut off, so she decides to take matters into her own hands to find the 53,507 euros it will cost for her to have the Channel for the rest of her life (she confidently assumes she will live to be 100). Together with her shockingly foul-mouthed teddy bear Judy Garland they set off on an adventure to rustle up the said sum, meeting along the way a disillusioned old man, a potential paedophile, Chekhov and a depressed bank teller, as well as the Prime Minister of Portugal.

So far, so bizarre. But as the climax of the adventure approaches, it comes into focus that the hub of the story is about Giraffe working through the grief of her mother’s loss, and trying to make sense of the world. This culminates in her realisation that you can’t pass laws to make everything right, and that logic does not always explain events or why they happen. Or, “the day I grew up” as she describes it. And that on these occasions, words just aren’t enough.

Writer Rodrigues captures compassionately both the joy of childhood fantasy and the sheer unstructured-ness of play, and the sadness of reality’s inevitable erosion of that charming state as it brings light and shade to the initially binary reactions. Mark O’Thomas’s meticulous translation (from the original Portuguese) manages to preserve the age-specific use of language which gives texture and credibility to the script.

Eve Ponsonby balances Giraffe’s earnestness and logic with a wilder, more playful way of thinking. Her inquisitive eyes and ears intake and evaluate every thought, word, feeling and sound in a torrent of sensation. Ponsonby beautifully and skilfully captures Giraffe’s moment of transition.

Nathan Welsh as ragged, stroppy, fabulously swear-y Judy Garland has a whale of a time with his role, vocalising as he does some of Giraffe’s unspoken inner thought processes. Gyuri Sarossy effectively plays a range of more down to earth supporting roles, best as the loving but terrified father clinging to his mantra “everything will be alright”.

Director Wiebke Green’s whole production strikes a delicate balance between joy and sadness without falling into sentimentalism or childishness, which could have been quite easy with such an unusual script which sometimes borders on the surreal. Lex Kosanke’s sound design adds and accentuates accompanying sounds to a range of situations, heightening the drama as Giraffe sees and hears it.

The working through of grief is complex and troubling for anyone, let alone a young child. But the compassionate, amusing and quirky way that Rodrigues explores his subject’s thoughts reminds us, in a bitter-sweet way, that growing up was never easy. If we let it, Green’s deft production can find the child in all of us.


SADNESS AND JOY IN THE LIFE OF GIRAFFES played in the Directors’ Festival at The Orange Tree, Richmond from 3-11 August. Details here


For information about the unique MA Directing course at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, details here


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