Giant opens to London audiences after a successful run in Edinburgh.  The Human Zoo Theatre Company welcomes and interacts with the audience as they are getting seated. This is very surprising and a bit unsettling initially as it is immediate and very encompassing, when you are asked a direct question from a stranger.

This company has a particular philosophy about life in general and each of us as individuals. This is played out amusingly in this production, as actors play out memories to show us that we are all interlinked and never complete independent.

The set, designed by Ellen Parry and Lucy Archbould, is the model of an attic with a trapdoor. All of this is conveyed by using different sized cardboard boxes to create a similar effect to that of brickwork and small props such as a table and chairs to enable the scenes to interlink seamlessly.

The cast wear nude coloured leotards thus creating  an opportunity for each member to have many roles. They capture a sense of three generations all living together and the unique characters which inhabit these generations. For instance, in the first scene, music by Nina Simone fills the theatre as characters Margaret and Jeff swing dance into falling in love. The first vignette is very fast paced highlighting the way life goes by so quickly and how milestones in family life are rapid. Props are used in a very imaginative and original way. A standout example of this is the use of a sheet which becomes a baby. The music composed by Mark Aspinall changes throughout to denote the passage of time and also aid the scene and life transitions.

The cast use a variety of styles such as cabaret, mime, puppetry, magic shows and spoken word very successfully. For instance, “Alex- The Indestructible Intern” performed by Florence O’Mahoney gives a sales pitch rap to the audience about life at 22: “my 5 years plan is 9 years too late” causing the audience to burst into laughter.

One very hilarious scenario is Tommy’s (Freddie Crossley) interview for a job at his uncle’s cardboard factory. The interview panel surround him and start asking the usual type of questions which then escalate to very personal and random enquiries, such as “why are you still living at home?” This is followed by a range of maths questions and then topics about workplace behaviour. Tommy’s first meeting with O’Mahoney’s intern is as realistic as it is funny – the sharp writing really emphasising this encounter: “Hi, you must be the one who got the job that I went for”.

The speed of Tommy’s own life which goes from job to pub to home generates the predictability and the fast pace of life in general that many of us are familiar with.

The exploration of the experiences of different generations is very successful as a result of the workshopping of mixed age groups. This is particularly strong in Grandmother Margaret. Rosalind Hoy captures Margaret’s older age very naturalistically aiding the exploration on stage. Hoy brings humour and so much life to the role that the audience can probably imagine their own grandmother shuffling across the stage recounting life stories.

The final scene in Giant is mesmerising and leaves a lasting memory. This time Tommy uses the trapdoor rather than the external stairs to get into the loft. The papier mache giant appears as if out of nowhere creating a dreamlike sequence with the added voice and appearance of his now dead grandmother, Margaret. The size of the giant highlights the strength of memories and their impact on the present in a spectacular and very human way.

This production has so many elements that add to an unusual and captivating approach to demonstrate the way different generations all live together.


Giant is playing at Greenwich Theatre until Tuesday 13 September. For more information and tickets, see The Human Zoo Theatre Company website.