On the December morning when snow first arrived in London, I hurried out into the cold and headed to the lovely Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, eager to hear the views of two very important people on a very exciting piece of theatre.
Haajar (11, in Year 6) and Khadijah (10, in Year 5) had an early start and travelled with their mum Sabrina (a primary school teacher) all the way from even snowier Slough to come and see Zeraffa Giraffa, a play that would take us to considerably warmer climes. The girls are a similar age to many of the nearly 300 attendees making up the Apples & Pears groups who went to see the play throughout it’s run at the Omnibus. Jim Rastall, Apples & Pears Ambassador, described the response of one of the groups:
“The young bilingual audience were treated to a beautiful story of acceptance and belonging, expertly told by just three actors who used music, puppetry and an old school projector to excellent effect. The audible intake of breath when the life size Zeraffa puppet first appeared was really special. It was suddenly very apparent that this was a brand new experience for many of the children in the audience. This trip to Omnibus theatre will hopefully be the first of many for these children and it will certainly live long in their memories.”
We definitely shared this delighted response to the play. Once we had settled into our seats and the lights had dimmed, the real journey began. Zeraffa Giraffa describes the journey of a giraffe given as a gift by the Pasha of Egypt to the King of France. She is accompanied by a new friend, a young boy called Atir, who travels with her from Sudan, to Ethiopia, to Cairo, to Marseilles and finally to the Jardin de Plantes in Paris. To learn more about the inspiration behind the play, you can read our interview with the playwright, Sabrina Mahfouz. As Khadijah succinctly put it: “An awesome play, about an awesome giraffe, and an awesome boy.”
I was impressed by the clever and compassionate ways in which a play for children explored some very serious and important themes, including migration, racism, loneliness and separation from family members, kidnapping and slavery. Hajaar said, “When it started I was worried what would happen to the giraffe, but when I found out Atir was going to look after her I felt a lot calmer.” It was certainly true that this central relationship between the boy and the giraffe in his care was particularly moving. As Khadijah underlined, the story was “sad, but happy at the end.” I won’t elaborate on her comment too much – no spoilers!
As well as these intense themes, there were moments of laughter – particularly with the cast’s brilliant puppetry and voices for the different characters the pair met on their journey. The girls’ favourite was Miss Extravaganza, an eccentric schemer helping to engineer the final stage of Zeraffa’s journey to meet the king. They also commented on how lovely the giraffe puppet’s eyes were. Other highlights included “the sound effects and shadows.” As Khadijah explained, “it was easy for us to notice what was happening in the story.” The girls were also impressed by the performances from the three actors: “they showed their emotions well and were very fluent in the languages they spoke.” Throughout the different stages of the journey, we heard Arabic, English and French – and the actors even performed live music.
Zeraffa Giraffa was a wonderful reminder of just how powerful theatre can be in beginning conversations about the crucial issues in our society – not just for children, but for adults too. We’re delighted so many Apples & Pears children were able to see this thought-provoking, beautiful, and very entertaining play, and so grateful to the Omnibus Theatre for helping us to make this happen.
If you’d be interested in accompanying children and their families on theatre trips, get in touch and join us as a Trips Volunteer!
(Trips Volunteer/Business Support Volunteer – Communications)