Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes (Orange Tree Theatre)

A play in the Directors’ Festival at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes proves to be wildly inventive in its new translation by Mark O’Thomas.

Publicity image for Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes

Tiago Rodrigues’s play centres on a little girl, tall and precocious, with a huge vocabulary. This is Giraffe, who introduces the piece as her school project, and hopes we “won’t be bored”.

With a foul-mouthed teddy bear inexplicably called Judy Garland, plus a whole parade of characters (dad, soup man, panther, policeman, bank clerk, PM and Anton Chekhov) all played by the versatile Gyuri Sarossy, this play charms, amuses, chills and moves in a 70 minute runtime.

Giraffe’s journey to get money for the Discovery Channel ultimately leads her to finally face the death of her mother, and understand how hard it is for her father to support a growing and inquisitive girl.

Publicity image for Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes

Eve Ponsonby is delightful as the central character, bouncing around in her pigtails and undies, defining words, sharing curiosity about her developing body, and finding the courage to let go of her teddy pal (played by Nathan Welsh wearing a bear suit and behaving like a petulant, potty-mouthed toddler).

Now and then the play veered into strange territory with discussions of paedophilia, and the sight of a half-clad little girl cuddling with a grown man dressed as a cuddly toy might be a touch on the weird side, but Wiebke Green gets the maximum impact from the material and directs her trio of actors well.

This will strike a chord with the young at heart, with those who remember growing up or the grief of first loss, or those who have open hearts and quirky souls. Whether you follow a line of Post-its, remember your mother’s scent, or rebel against authority, there’s something here to keep the interest.

Cory Shipp’s set design for Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes

Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes ran at the Directors’ Festival at the Orange Tree Theatre from 3-11 August.

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