Zeraffa Giraffa is a show about a journey, but I don’t feel moved. Based on the true story of the first giraffe to arrive in France, as told in Dianne Hofmeyr’s picturebook, we travel from Ethiopia, through Sudan, Egypt, Alexandria and finally France, without really going anywhere in this muted, monocoloured production. In a play that draws on themes of immigration and identity, perhaps there is an intentional effort to show the commonalities between different countries and communities, but this has smoothed away any texture, so that Zeraffa and her 12-year-old companion Atir slide through the sand-coloured set and earnest script in a world that looks, feels and sounds roughly the same wherever they go, as though they have been walking on the spot.
Zeraffa herself is the most changeable element, alternating between a beautiful, large puppet controlled by two performers, a performer herself, and an inanimate toy small enough to fit into Atir’s hand. The adjustment in size also shifts Zeraffa’s status – when life-sized, she is a central focus, but pocket-sized, she’s easy to forget, so that it’s hard to know who we’re following on this journey. This is one way in which it’s difficult to feel emotionally invested in the story; the other is that the script does too much, setting up, and solving, atmospheres and issues. There is a rushed relationship at the show’s end – when feelings apparently develop, it’s explained to the audience rather than experienced by them, so that we take the show’s word for it that the ending is a happy one, rather than knowing that to be true for ourselves. All in all, Zeraffa Giraffa is a production about a historical event that is told in black and white – the story never lives.
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