‘The Selfish Giant’ comes to life at BYU

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BYU’s “The Selfish Giant” finally came to life Friday night, May 30, in the Pardoe Theatre, winning over audience members of all ages

“It amazed me,” said Caroline Owen, who brought her granddaughters to the play. “I enjoyed it on many levels.”

Caroline’s five-year-old granddaughter, Sophie, was much more animated with her thoughts on the play.

“It was so awesome!” Sophie said. “I thought it was a real giant.”

While the crowd cheered when the “Selfish Giant” came to life about a minute into the play, and then stayed on for the majority of the hour-long performance, most audience members were able to recognize that the 12-foot tall giant was in reality just a bunch of foam blocks. The puppeteers who brought the larger-than-life character to life, however, did such a good job maneuvering him around the stage that most audience members forgot that there were seven people on stage at all times operating him.

“I was super impressed with what they were able to convey with the giant,” said Scott Schaelling of Kaysville, “If I could watch it a few more times I could get more out of it but I would definitely recommend it.”

The Cornish Ogre helps tell the story of Oscar Wilde's "The Selfish Giant"
The Cornish Ogre, just one of the many magical characters in the play, helps narrate the story of Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant” playing in the Pardoe Theatre. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

With so many puppeteers operating the large giant, the ability for them to not be distracting to the audience was a feat in itself.

“If you puppeteer correctly people don’t pay attention to us,” said puppet operator Britney Miles.

The giant, who was built by the students that operate him, takes six different puppeteers to maneuver the character around the stage, with one on each arm, each leg, torso and the head. The actor who does the voice of the show’s main character is also on stage for the duration of the play.

“The guy who did (the giant) his voice was the best,” said Christy Burnett of Springville. “I wish I would’ve brought my grandkids.”

Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s 1888 short story with the same name, “The Selfish Giant” focuses on a self-centered giant who is unwilling at first to share his beautiful garden with the children who long to play in it, but then finds happiness when he at last welcomes the youngsters onto his patch of lovely earth.

The play is narrated by a comedic old Ogre (appropriately named the Cornish Ogre) who, with the help of an interactive backdrop that changes with new scenes, takes the audience on a journey back to when he and the giant forged a friendship as school mates.

The story continues as the soft-spoken Ogre and intelligent giant grow distant from each other and the giant grows increasingly selfish. The giant eventually moves away and focuses all of his attention on his material belongings, specifically his beautiful garden, ridding his meticulous garden of the village children who long to play in it. After a series of events the giant builds a large brick wall around the garden to keep out any unwanted visitors, symbolic of the black wall that has formed around the giants heart.

The stilt-walking elements of Frost, Snow, North Wind and Hail also creep into the giants garden. With the help of a mysterious and symbolic little boy that the giant finds in the garden one day, the cold harsh winter is eventually turned into spring, softening the giant’s heart.

Randy Gilliland of Provo and his date Jessica Croft of Salt Lake take pictures with "The Selfish Giant" after the plays opening night performance. Check the byu.arts.edu for future showtimes.
Randy Gilliland of Provo and his date Jessica Croft of Salt Lake take pictures with “The Selfish Giant” on opening night. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

The story is rich with Christian symbolism and is an allegory of Christ’s love for each of us.

“It’s a story about redemption and growth and being able to change,” said Chandra Lloyd, another one of the puppeteers.

“The selfish giant is really the story of all of us,” director Nat Reed said. “We are all the selfish giant.”

While the story is geared towards children, it is a play that audience members of all ages will enjoy. In the words of the Cornish Ogre, “Is it a true story? Well, it’s a story that tells the truth.”

Put on by BYU’s Department of Theatre and Media arts, “The Selfish Giant” runs for the next few weeks, including May 31, June 5 through 7 and June 11 through 13 at 7:00 p.m. Matinee shows are also available. Tickets are $12 with discounts for students, matinees, BYU alumni and seniors. Check the BYU arts website for a full listing of performances as well as ticket information. Check out the hashtag “BYUGiant” on social media platforms for reviews and pictures of the performances.

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