Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes – The Orange Tree Theatre, London

Writer: Tiago Rodrigues

Director: Wiebke Green

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Fans of The Wizard of Oz may want to stay away from this nasty rework of the iconic film. In Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes, a coming-of-age drama from Portugal, Judy Garland reappears as a foul-mouthed teddy bear, and instead of tin men and cowardly lions our heroine meets bank clerks and paedophiles. It’s a difficult play to like.

It’s a brave choice for director Wiebke Green who is at The Orange Tree as part of the Directors’ Festival, a series of four short plays by students from St Mary’s University in Twickenham. Their course involves a year’s training at The Orange Tree, and Green helped on the tense revival of Martin Crimp’s Dealing With Clair earlier this year. Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes is even more macabre.

Nine –year-old Giraffe lives with her father. Her mother has died, and now her father is struggling to make ends meet. One of the first things to go is their subscription to the Discovery Channel, which Giraffe claims is a necessity rather than a luxury. Realising that her father doesn’t have the money she runs away from home, with her teddy, to find some quick cash.

As Giraffe, Eve Ponsonby is extraordinarily good, and does well to keep the audience entertained especially as the whole play is presented as a talk, like a show and tell at school. So many lines begin with such words as ‘This is the sound of…’ that Tiago Rodrigues’ script soon becomes wearisome and repetitive. It’s a credit to Ponsonby that we still care about her fate.

Her companion on these adventures is Judy Garland, her teddy bear, played by Nathan Welsh, reluctant and grouchy. A potty-mouthed talking teddy bear is nothing new (see Mark Wahlberg’s film Ted of 2012), and despite Welsh’s best efforts Judy seems an odd toy for a girl, and the bear swears to such an extent that only a boy teenager would be impressed. Giraffe’s father and all the other characters she meets on her journey are played efficiently by Gyuri Sarossy. Perhaps purposely he makes sure that her father is visible in each guise.

When Giraffe and Judy are running on boxes or dancing together there is real excitement and it would have helped the production if this physicality could have been extended to other sections of the play. Some parts need a little more inventiveness to justify the 75-minute running time. However, the main problem here is Rodrigues’ play rather than Green’s direction.

Runs until 11 August 2019

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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