The Selfish Giant

Most people will recall being enchanted as children by Oscar Wilde’s story ‘The Selfish Giant’. Yes, you remember – it’s the one where a miserable giant won’t allow the local children to play in his garden just because it is his garden. But without children, Winter moves in and the garden becomes a cold and lonely place. A small corner of it begins to recover when a few children sneak back in. Seeing this, the Giant repents his earlier selfishness, makes friends with the children, (especially one particular child) and learns how to be happy. It’s a wonderful tale.

To put this on stage surely requires an amazing garden, a giant, and a large number of children.

So, what if there are only two women?

Well, the giant will have to be a giantess, but what about all the children? Soap Soup Theatre and Tessa Bide Productions have combined to produce 50 minutes of theatrical magic. The children come to life as puppets – stylised but extremely effective. The two performers, Rosamund Hine and Charlotte Dubery work well together to play the personified seasons, the giant and the children. The stage is set with a construction of ladders and items of clothing – almost like a piece of modern art. At first it looks like the giant has left her washing out, but it soon becomes clear that it represents the trees and plants in the garden. The children in the audience weren’t confused at all. At one point, a little girl hides as the giant is searching and one tell-tale child in the audience shouted ‘she’s in the tree!’

In this version of the story, the giantess is Grinter (engagingly played by Rosamund Hine), living in seclusion because she feels rejected and unwanted. While she is away from home, local children play in her garden. On her return she is happy to see how well her garden has grown but can tell children have been there – they have eaten berries and left footprints on the lawn. All the children run away when they hear the giant is coming back, except for one lonely little girl called Poppy who has a book about mushrooms with her and is distracted by a particularly noteworthy specimen. 

Poppy is represented by a small puppet but it is so expertly operated that it’s easy to forget the puppeteer (Charlotte Dubery) is present. In her anger the giant builds a wall around her garden to keep the children out. This is effectively portrayed by fabric raising at the back of the stage as the giant mimes the construction. The giant doesn’t seem to be especially selfish though – just protective of her property. 

So poor Poppy is trapped in the garden as the season changes to Winter and all the plants die. The giant is distressed until she spots Poppy helping a snowdrop to grow by singing to it. The mood is altered with an effective lighting change. Grinter threatens to throw Poppy over the wall, but instead demands she saves a cherry tree which duly starts to blossom.

From that point they work together to restore the garden and Grinter confides that she isolated herself because she felt unwanted because she is different. Poppy feels the same and that she won’t be missed. Grinter now realises that Poppy must go home so she doesn’t also become isolated and cruelly tells her they are not friends and she must leave the garden. But it is clear that Grinter cares really because she holds a creeper over the wall for Poppy to climb down and says Poppy must give three tugs when she reaches the bottom so she knows she is safe. 

Without Poppy the garden turns cold and the snow buffets the giant. This is cleverly shown by using a puppet of the giant being tossed about on white sheets as the two actors now represent the seasons.

Poppy returns but the giant is tired and weary. She has just enough strength to demolish the wall. Poppy is excited to share all the ideas she has for the garden and as the giant dies, she literally takes up her mantle and becomes the giant herself. This transition was especially effective and done quite tenderly. The giant simply took off her coat, hung it up and left the stage. Poppy’s puppeteer put it on and the cycle restarted. But this time, the children were welcome in the garden as long as they cared for it and were unselfish.

This is a delightful piece of innovative theatre and the children in the audience were captivated, if a little noisy at times! The two performers kept up the pace of the action very well, with very quick costume changes, though occasionally their voices were hard to hear over incidental music. Just the right length, this piece has a strong message that being different is okay and friendship can be found in unlikely places.

The Selfish Giant is touring nationwide until 20th April 2019. You can buy tickets for the various locations via the Tessa Bide website here.

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