After the Selfish Giant builds an enormous wall around his garden to keep out the animals, Snow, Hail, Frost, and the North Wind take up permanent residence. When spring eventually returns to Scotland on the other side of the wall, in the giant’s garden it remains winter all year round…
"Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a land… not very far away, there was a great majestic castle standing all by itself in the middle of a beautiful garden, not that you’d know it was a beautiful garden, for our story begins in deepest winter."
The Selfish Giant is a ‘smartly secularised’ (Sunday Herald) re-telling of Oscar Wilde’s poignant story, using storytelling, dance, music and inventive stagecraft alongside comedy and plenty of audience involvement.
The Selfish Giant was first produced in 2009 as a schools’ touring show, Spring and the Selfish Giant. It was the Christmas show at Platform in Glasgow in 2010 and was most recently the first Christmas show at the new Studio at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, in 2013.
|Adapted by||Andy Cannon and Iain Johnstone from Oscar Wilde’s story|
|Design realised by||Ali Maclaurin|
|Original Backdrop Cloth||Becky Minto|
|Lighting Design||Colin Grenfell|
|Production Manager||Mickey Graham|
|Stage Manager||Sooz Glen|
|Technical Manager||Andy Gannon|
|Publicity Image by||Ailsa Black|
9 December 2013
Andy Cannon and Iain Johnstone's stage adaptation is a taut, family-friendly morality tale
It may sometimes feel as if Scotland only has one season, but this theatrical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Selfish Giant, reminds us that spring does actually exist. It tells of a giant who lives in a castle in the Scottish Highlands, whose selfishness causes him to build a high wall around his beautiful green garden to keep out all the animals who like to play there.
Wilde’s story made waves earlier this year in Clio Barnard’s broad social-realist film adaptation, to which Wee Stories’ version for children (staged in other forms by this company on more than one occasion before, in case claims of cashing-in might be levelled) bears no resemblance. Nor does it contain much of the overt religious content of the original. Instead, there are echoes of A Christmas Carol in co-adapters Andy Cannon and Iain Johnstone’s taut morality tale of a greedy giant whose attitude and behaviour bring him loneliness.
It’s inventively staged for a low budget, with Johnstone’s giant (he also directs) winningly presented as a galoot filled with comedy panto meanness, engaging in plenty of call-and-response dialogue and animal impressions with the primary school-aged audience. The transforming castle set makes a little go a long way, and the two female dancers who complete the cast bring vividly amusing life to the changing of the seasons as the giant’s garden becomes a snowy waste. It’s a small-scale show, but its heart is giant-sized.
Edinburgh Festival Theatre Studio, until Tue 24 Dec.
8 December 2013
There's no Christmas tree, indeed there's nothing growing at all, in the garden of the titular protagonist of The Selfish Giant, Wee Stories's revival of Andy Cannon and Iain Johnstone's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's famous tale. Performed in the fine Studio at the Festival Theatre, the story is told with the Edinburgh-based company's customary combination of wit, style, humour and imaginative licence.
Featuring Johnstone as the eponymous colossus, this version takes us back to a Scotland before humans, in which rabbits, frogs and squirrels were menaced by ogres, trolls and a self-centred, shortbread-munching giant. Gone, then, are the children of Wilde's original, to be replaced by a host of animals (played, not too taxingly, by us, the audience), which the giant keeps out of his garden with a massive wall. Gone, too, and without a hint of damage to the tale's central moral, is Wilde's religious conclusion.
Designed for everyone from five-years-old upwards, this smartly secularised retelling boasts a typically superb performance by Johnstone, a dry and witty narrator, and a hilariously knuckle-headed (and tremendously costumed) giant. Fellow performers Courtnay Collins and Tara Hodgson represent, by turns, the wintery Queen of the Snow (who occupies the giant's garden), and the spring and autumn (which the big oaf has unwittingly locked outside). Needless to say, with painstaking accuracy, there's no Scottish summer.
The three seasons are evoked by lovely costumes, beautifully attuned choreography (by Jane Howie), and clever concepts. The Queen of the Snow, for instance, speaks with a distinctly Russian accent, and is accompanied by music redolent of Europe's far east, while spring is Celtic, both in dance and music.
It wouldn't be a Wee Stories show without a gorgeously hand-crafted set, and designer Ali Maclaurin obliges with a wonderfully versatile giant's castle. Once again, Wee Stories have come up with a production which is enthralling, great fun and utterly distinctive.
Saturday 7 December
Wee Stories’ The Selfish Giant is in Edinburgh in the run-up to Christmas, and it’s guaranteed to be the most charming show you’ve seen all year. At only an hour in length it’s by no means a giant play; but every one of those 60 minutes is packed with beauty and good-humoured spontaneity which are a joy to watch.
The plot is a re-imagining of Oscar Wilde’s classic fairy tale of the curmudgeonly giant who walls in his garden to keep the children from playing in it, then learns that sharing it with them is much more fulfilling. Wee Stories Theatre have given the giant a Tam o’ Shanter and a West Coast accent, and replaced the children with animals, played, from our seats, by the audience (hands up above our ears for the rabbits, rrrribbet-ing for the frogs, and for the squirrels…well, you’ll have to go along and see).
The cast, like the play, is small but perfectly formed. Iain Johnstone in the title role has the audience in the palm of his giant’s hand, while two versatile backing dancers, choreographed by Jane Howie, sing, ceilidh and ballet-leap their way through the roles of Spring, the North Wind, Jack Frost and the Queen of the Snow, as well as putting in a double-act as a prissy golden eagle in spectacular feathered spectacles.
Many such quirky, gorgeous details of costumes and props make the whole production glow. Spring dances on with a basket of daffodils, which miraculously jump upright when she tosses them on the stage. There’s a clever sleight of hand as Jack Frost paints the giant’s garden with icicles, chilling the roses and peeling a sheet of ice over the pond. When the giant decides to keep out the animals, the cardboard façade of his castle neatly unpacks and slides outwards to form the wall. When springtime returns to everywhere but the walled-in garden, the front two rows of the audience are given headbands with poppies and daisies growing from them, so that spectators further back are looking at the barren garden through a belt of flowers. And a lovely optical illusion at the end of the story leaves us with the comforting idea that though the giant may have popped his clogs (at a ripe old age, of course), he isn’t quite gone.
The Selfish Giant is the perfect early Christmas present, a gem that will appeal to adults and children alike. Treat yourself.
Reviewed by Kelly Apter
9 December 2013
Pantomimes and shows for younger children have one key ingredient in common – audience interaction. So while nobody would go along to The Selfish Giant this Christmas expecting to bellow “it’s behind you”, a desire for some degree of joining in is entirely appropriate. Happily, Wee Stories Theatre Company has been doing this long enough to know that young bottoms are far less wriggly on theatre seats if you give the rest of the body something to do.
To that end, Oscar Wilde’s late 19th century tale has been tweaked to facilitate some gentle but fun participation. In the original story, the eponymous giant bans all children from his lovely walled garden – in this version, it’s animals. So, sitting in the auditorium (and therefore outside the castle walls) we all become said creatures – rabbits, frogs and squirrels.
There’s also an opportunity for us to help spring blossom outside the Giant’s snowy garden, with some rather nifty deeley-boppers. All of which, apart from being good fun, ensures attention stays focused.
As always, consummate storyteller Iain Johnstone delivers the tale with clarity and wit, morphing into different characters with ease. Spring, winter and autumn are played by dancers Tara Hodgson and Courtnay Collins (no need to portray the Scottish summer, it’s too short), who also help the set evolve through the seasons.
The Scottish slant (“Keep oot” and “Nae animals” signs on the castle wall) give the show a lovely sense of place.
10 December 2013
Reviewed by Irene Brown
A towering show from Wee Stories!
Wee Stories has once again scattered their magic over a classic tale and made it their own. This time it is Oscar Wilde’s salutary tale of The Selfish Giant.
Returning to his beloved castle after a seven year absence visiting his Cornish cousin, the giant decides to build a wall round the lovely garden so he alone can enjoy its fruits. Spring comes round as Spring is wont to do, but can’t quite get in to the garden because of the giant’s big wall so Winter coories doun and makes herself a long term tenant there along with her pals the North Wind, Hail, Frost and Snow.
After a long hibernation, and finding the need to mend his draughty roof, the giant realizes that the presence of his chilly chums have meant there are nae mair flooers. It then dawns on him that without flowers the bees can’t make honey, without honey the bears have no sweet nourishment and so it goes on. This adaptation sends out an environmental message rather than a Christian one, using the banishment of animals instead of children but still signals the vital importance of connectedness.
Becky Minto’s beautiful original backdrop is a soft collage of blue sky and white cotton clouds; green and brown forests, lochs, glens and bens with the fictitious Ben Neb taking on a profile like Ayrshire’s Sleeping Warrior!
In front of this comforting cloth, the brilliant Iain Johnstone is a very Scottish giant who from the get go engages directly with the young audience and has them instantly on board.
The largely poetic dialogue is delivered in Scots and Scots English and it is affirming for Scottish children to hear their ain tongue spoken so assuredly on stage. He evokes a time before the time we know when an ancient Scotland was inhabited by bogles and trolls as well as giants, bears and boars as he narrates the tale with immaculately effective sounds co-ordination and inventive animal impressions.
Johnstone has the children eagerly interacting at the signal words of ‘rabbit’ ‘frog’ and ‘squirrel’ throughout. Some comic bear bum scratching and Winter’s squelchy pants brought shrieks of delight from the children in the audience in this cheery telling of a serious story with seasonal redemption.
The seasons and elements are beautifully realised in dance by Tara Hodgson and Courtney Collins who do some quick changes into the gorgeous costumes created by Carys Hobbs. Their creation of the mighty eagle is a masterpiece of mimicry. The music is played on concertina, bodhran, whistles, guitar, fiddle, cello, piano, keyboard and accordion that comes together at the end to accompany some cool Scottish country dance moves from the cast.
The false fire alarm drama that preceded this performance did nothing to douse the brilliance of the show. It is a tremendous first Christmas production in the Festival Theatre’s spanking new studio space situated at Potterrow that augurs well for the future.
9 December 2013
Reviewed by Mary Brennan
“Once upon a time… “ has led audiences of all ages into many a Wee Stories adventure. So when Iain Johnstone utters those time-honoured words, we settle back, ready to listen, or join in when asked. True to Wee Stories house style, we are soon being rabbits, frogs and squirrels – the latter gleefully declaring, “yum, yum, yum! Love those nuts!” Everything’s rosy. But then the Giant turns selfish. Starts girning that its HIS gairden – Johnstone voices him in braid Scots accents – and putting up signs that say Keep Oot and Nae Animals.
Now anyone who knows the original Oscar Wilde story will soon spot the savvy changes that Johnstone (and his fellow adaptor, Andy Cannon) have devised: animals, not children, irk the Giant into building a wall. But the (painted) stones that extend out from the castle set can’t keep out the North Wind, or the Hail. They pave the way for Jack Frost and the Snow Queen in one of the deftest transformation scenes you could wish for.
In the swish of some white cloths, winter arrives with dancers Courtnay Collins and Tara Hodgson giving brisk, frisky energy, musicality and visual poetry to the chilly elements. It’s at this point Johnstone’s mastery of narrative and character twists the genial comedy of the Giant’s early stomping about – with droll grumblings and frowny facial expressions illustrating his spoken text – into something genuinely poignant. His whole body, and he’s a tall fellow, simply crumples and saddens at how his beautiful walled-up garden has become a frozen waste.
The happy ending reinforces an eco-friendly turn in the tale, and yet again, Wee Stories lifts the spirits with resourceful, imaginative story-telling.
12 December 2013
Reviewed by Josie Balfour
Is The Selfish Giant vying to be the coolest school trip for primary ones ever? Not content with being an award winning theatre company, Wee Stories managed to add in some extra surprises on Tuesday morning. Not only did the school group in for the show get to see a story about a giant but thanks to an impromptu fire alarm, they got to see some fire personnel, a fire engine and hang out next to a very, very large crane at the fire assembly point just behind the museum.
The small group at the front of the building waiting to get in to see the show even got to meet a rather friendly and well behaved pooch.
Adapted by Andy Cannon and Iain Johnstone from Oscar Wilde’s story of a big man and his even bigger garden wall, The Selfish Giant is the first production to be put on by the Festival Theatre in their new Potter Row venue and it inhabits the space splendidly.
Although functional and austere, the small studio is ideal for intimate, interactive theatre and The Selfish Giant rises to the occasion magnificently.
Like Wilde’s tale itself, at first glance the production is a simple, entertaining children’s allegory, yet underneath the surface are artfully constructed layers of creativity.
The Snow Queen and her clothes are formed from the snow lying around her, the edges of the giant’s wall are defined by a duster, spring lands some daffodils in the ground with a heavy handed thud. It all blends together to form an innovative magical story that held the children’s attention for its hour-long duration.
Playing the narrator and giant, as well as directing, Iain Johnstone inhabits his parts with ease, connecting with the young audience and telling the tale in a beguiling yet unsentimental way. There is a great deal of audience interacting, from floral deely-bopper wearing to look behind yous to the squirrelly enjoyment of nuts.
One has to wonder, however, how much the kids will appreciate it with such stiff competition from the fire services and a cute canine. Probably best to leave them looking at the cranes and enjoy this gem of a show all to yourself.