The selfish giant is about children playing, like they should; it’s about building walls and breaking them down; it’s about the unexpected consequences of being good and kind and friendly; it’s about change, conversion and true love.
Yes, it does have a Christian message, which surprised me, as I didn’t think Oscar Wilde was a Christian. But I’m not the judge as to whether he is a Christian or not, and even if he’s not, I can’t prevent him from writing a story with a Christian message. Apparently, he wrote it for his children. It was the first time Whirlwind Theatre has produced a play with a specifically Christian message. It’s great. For about two years, they’ve been talking about writing and producing a play based on the life of David.
I can’t help reflecting though that this has been the most challenging project the company has undertaken so far. Maybe it has to do with the fact that most of the children haven’t heard the Christian message; this was clear from the questions they asked me. They wanted to know about the boy who appeared to the giant twice. The first time, his appearance was partly responsible for the giant’s change of heart, and the second time, it was to take the (by now) old giant away. Why didn’t the giant just die like other old people, why did this mysterious boy have to take him away?
But I think it was also more than that. For one thing, there was the largest number of children this year, 38. For another, the play was more demanding of their acting skills than the previous two I’d participated in. It was tough for me too, as I also had a full part this year, unlike on previous occasions.
Yesterday evening, the children were the rowdiest I’ve ever seen them. About an hour before the final performance, I went to see if I could help the struggling carers calm them. I went into their ‘holding area’, a huge room with dressing rooms leading off. For several minutes, I urged calm, but the children were too busy talking to pay me any heed. Oh They knew I was there, and they knew why. During the process, I took hold of two ringleaders, one on each hand. That way, I could know what they were doing, but I also hoped to prevent them rushing around the room and further igniting the other children. I noticed that one of them, an older boy was constantly wriggling about. I thought he was trying to escape, but when I asked, he said that all he was doing was looking around. Interesting, as I’d asked him to be still. As we were in the centre of the room, he was having to look backwards to catch the action, which despite my instructions, was obviously too good to be missed. So I asked if this was what he did when the director asked him to be still and quiet. He stood relatively still for about half a minute and when I asked him whether it had been too difficult, he refused to answer. So I asked him again and he said he’d been quiet, because I’d asked him to. Oh well, I suppose a quiet sullen boy is better than a rampaging one.
Eventually, after about 15 minutes, I managed to get relative quiet. I urged them to focus their boundless energy on concentrating and putting up the best show possible. I don’t know if they heard me. The adults were frustrated at the end of the day; but feedback from audience members who came up to me afterwards suggests that they enjoyed the show very much.
It wasn’t all about sullen boys though. The adults too had a great time. We’d had a week of rehearsals before the children joined us. On Wednesday, after the first performance, we decided to go out for a social. So, there I was, in Pizza Marguerita, listening to a conversation between Tony Carter (an excellent clarinettist and flutist who spends his time touring with Chriss Barber’s jazz band) and Steve )the musical director whose full time job is with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales) on the best baked beans. If you’re interested, they agreed that it’s Tescos, apparently richer than most brand names. Now I know. Afterwards, Tony wanted to hear live blues and jazz, so I took him to the John O’Gaunt (pardon the spelling as I’ve never seen the sign).
On the whole, most of the children were wonderful, great fun to be with. I can’t deny that I really enjoyed this year, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through town and have people whom I don’t recognize, reminding me that we did this or that play together. After the last performance, the company gathered to give prizes to the children. Apart from their certificates, (which all received) prizes were given to 11 children. Some got prizes for their acting skills, but others for improvements over the rehearsal period, for commitment and for good behaviour. Then there were the farewells, some tearful. I watched a girl take the addresses of her new friends. Just the day before, she’d been upset because her voice wasn’t holding out and she had an important solo to sing. But I saw her just before performance, and after 24 hours of tender ministrations by her mum, she was feeling much better and ready to sing in full voice.
Watching her reminded me that our project is only for three weeks, but the children would hopefully make lifelong friendships. That’s what the Selfish Giant is about, children playing beyond the restrictions that adults place on them. It was after all the adult who built the wall and eventually took it down to allow the children play. Oh, I’m all for discipline, but the wall should be a boundary to keep children safe and away from danger, not a fence to keep them away from enjoyment.