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FringeReview UK 2019

Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes

Orange Tree Theatre with St Mary’s University, Twickenham

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, European Theatre, International, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Short Plays, Theatre, Translation

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre Richmond


Low Down

The Directors’ Festival 2019 is the third organized by Orange Tree Theatre with St Mary’s University, Twickenham. It features four plays, Tiego Rodrigues’ Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes, Elinor Cook’s Pilgrims, Josh Azouz’s The Mikvah Project and Declan Greene’s Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography, The director here for the Rodrigues’ is   Wiebke Green. All designs are by Cory Shipp, lit by Chris McDonnell with sound design by Lex Kosanke. Till August 11th.


The Directors’ Festival 2019 is back – the third organized by Orange Tree Theatre with St Mary’s University. Mark O‘Thomas has translated Portuguese dramatist Tiego Rodrigues’ Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes directed here by Wiebke Green.


A precocious nine-year-old – she tells you how many days more – is presenting a school project to us, the eponymous one of the title and her name. Because she calls herself Giraffe too. Not that she’s being anthropomorphic, she’s scarily precocious. Not surprising with bright parents leaving dictionaries for her to figure out instructions by sequencing words via page numbers. At one point Giraffe mischievously uses other dictionaries to produce surreal mis-readings and posts these back to her father.


Only there’s just one parent now, her resting-actor ‘The Man Who is My Father’) as Giraffe litanises each time. And he can’t pay the bills so the Discovery Channel where giraffes can be found is defunct. And Giraffe, played with wide-eyed brilliance by Eve Ponsonby, can’t appeal to her mother. When she talks of ancestors ‘those’ who’ve gone before’ and those still living with us, she means respectively her mother and father.


Wiebke Green directs with a deft sense of the rhythm of the piece, the litanic repeats as a learning mantra and Giraffe’s subversion of it as a tone of loss, anger, bereavement. What emerges from Rodrigues’ play is the sad enchantment of a child growing out of mantras into adult perception, but precociously so these idioms are poetically mixed. Wondering anthropological and learning-based outcomes clash with wide-eyed takes on them: literalness with precocious glosses. And there’s a verbal surprise, a big one, in the filthy-talking Judy Garland, Giraffe’s teddy bear, played with relish by Nathan Welsh. Judy mouths c-word-rated obscenities, the least of them being ‘bitch’, Judy’s name for Giraffe. But only Giraffe can hear Judy. And Judy eagerly wants Giraffe to pronounce her death-date.


All designs are by Cory Shipp, here some bright primary-coloured boxes; a globe, a teddy, a retracting rumpled bed and an equally occasional armchair and lamp for the anxious father. And post-its. Lit by Chris McDonnell to evoke bedrooms and streetlamps and garish day, with an upbeat but sparing sound design by Lex Kosanke, featuring a quiet snatch of hits.


Leaving ‘The Man Who is My Father’ (Gyuri Sarossy) with his invocations of Chekhov, Giraffe sets out with Judy on a wild odyssey encountering an elderly man (Sarossy) on a Zimmer who gives her a 50-euro note, he’s withholding from his children. It’s ‘angry’ money so Giraffe gifts it to ‘Panther’ (Sarossy again) who ‘isn’t a paedophile’ but smells appalling and rubs himself on Giraffe since she’s significantly wearing her mother’s perfume and that might attract them: he says.


Giraffe’s calculated that to have Discovery Channel till she’s 100, as she’ll live till then costs over 57,0000 euros, so she’ll have to rob a bank Panther points out. Sarossy’s back as a truth-telling bank-manager then as Portugal’s president Paulo Coelho whom Giraffe confronts over a little matter of changing a law. No wonder Rodrigues is having fun with the name of Brazil’s most popular writer who naturally writes in Portuguese. It’s the kind of story Coelho writes.


The neatness of the three-hander enables Sarossy’s accentual virtuosity room to inhabit all aspects of a father Giraffe’s also in a way mourning. But there’s one final avatar Sarossy embodies which might just answer a few questions. Anton Chekhov himself arrives, a Bulgarian inventor thinks Giraffe. Haven’t we heard about him before?


There’s more business yet, there’s a home, there’s Judy. There’s a day to reflect on and what to do about ‘The Man Who is My Father’. What Rodrigues manages in this charming and profound fable is to pinpoint the moment where loss becomes growth, through language, fable and revelation. Judy ensures it’s adult viewing though, cutting across what might be deemed – unfairly – as fey. Rodrigues is a dramatist we need to see far more of.