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


Review: EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY

EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY plays its final performance on Saturday 10th August at 7pm at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Tickets and information here

IN BRIEF Intense black comedy dissects unrealistic expectations of modern life through detailed performances and direction

“I’m so fat”

“I’m so ugly”

“I’m so stupid”

“I’m so old”

Punched up by a throbbing light, an hypnotic barrage of negativity prefaces Declan Greene’s play which deals with the attempts of two lonely, desperate forty-somethings to find a real connection through our modern ultra-judgmental cyberworld.

Both characters have been cornered by life. She’s a nurse with a shopping addiction, a debt mountain, out of control kids and a secret fear. He’s an IT guy in a sterile marriage and addicted to online porn.  They hook up through a dating app. The audience endures with them an excruciating, conversationally-mashed meeting in a bar followed by a flailing attempt at casual sex.

His downloading of (the title’s) porn onto his work laptop get him fired and he panics, returning to her where reluctantly she gives him shelter. Through an unexpected later event they are finally able to come together at the close of the play, and for a moment at least, they can be open with one another.

Greene’s script produces laughter of many kinds, sometimes at the most unexpected times. Sometimes, it’s the laughter of recognition; there’s something here that we can all relate to, and it’s not easy. The audience I was with were vocal and up for the ride. Early on there’s a very funny but uncomfortable verbalisation of text-message foreplay with spoken punctuation, emoji-speak and time-lags played out in real time, which works really well. And occasionally, the dialogue is piercing (“Just someone”, she pleads into thin air).

Denying his characters’ right to names, Greene cuts through them, examining the layers of denial and desperation which have accumulated. Scenes in which feelings and sensations are discussed, mostly of shame and disorientation, are starkly effective.

Theatrically, the characters are isolated by space and lighting. Where the two characters do interact, their cut-aways, speaking frankly to the audience, work to draw us into their messy situations. In fact, the characters seem to talk more to the audience than each other, underlining their life in isolation, aided by the lighting design by Chris McDonell which was also amusing in its depiction of orgasm (or not), and boosted by Lex Kosanke’s sound design.

On Cory Shipp’s clever, simple set comprised of three separate spaces, we are given fragments of her backstory to put together, as Greene stokes the underlying tension. Just what is she terrified of, and why has she got £3,000 in cash in an envelope?

The climax of the play brings some apparent truth in its wake and the possibility of a little light in the midst of all this darkness. And any play with as smart a curtain line as this one is good with me.

The acting is first-rate. Cate Hamer expertly captures her character’s wrung-out desperation, living at the tips of her nerve endings, the caring part of her nature at odds with her reactions when provoked. Her backstory weights the play towards her, and her studied performance easily supports that load. Matthew Douglas charts his character’s obsession with youth and age, predatory bravado and sudden decline with skill. Both performances are enriched through Gianluca Lello’s sensitive and incisive direction.

Nobody’s perfect, as they say. But this play reminds us that the contemporary pressures to expect perfection of ourselves -and of others – are not only unrealistic but deeply self-destructive. We haven’t seen the last of Greene’s play, I am sure.

EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY plays its final performance on Saturday 10th August at 7pm at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Tickets and information here