Reviewer David Collins and two guests, Lily and James, recently attended the National Theatre of Parramatta’s critically acclaimed production of Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree at Arts Centre Melbourne. Here are their impressions:
David – 41 years old:
The Red Tree is theatrical collage of cabaret, musical, comedy, puppetry, and story. For those fond of alliteration in the second sentence of a review, this was an audacious adaptation of what is a very stylised, but truthful children’s book (of the same name) by acclaimed Australian writer and visual artist, Shaun Tan.
The creative team succeed in pulling together the stunning illustrations of various locations and difficult emotional states explored by the main character, an unassuming red-haired girl, and making a non-patronising, exciting, and vital work of theatre for young people.
While the character in the book is anonymous, here they name her Ava. Ava seems peacefully asleep in her wee origami-esque folded little bedroom that we can tell, as soon as we take our seats, will open up later on. But, when Ava does stir and her bedroom move, it’s due to her anxiety. She reveals she often can’t bring herself to leave her room. What follows over a near-hour is an engaging and entertaining journey from fear to acceptance.
Lily – 15 years old:
I thought it was really good. I think from being a bit older I didn’t think it would have much for the younger kids but it definitely had some nice things for them to enjoy, but it was also good how it talked about anxiety in the back story.
I couldn’t really understand the transition from her wanting to be in the sea and then appearing in the sea. I didn’t really understand how that related to what was happening, I think it was more of an artsy thing. I also think that the idea of the red tree could have been included a bit more.
They utilised the props and stuff very well, by the end they had used every single part of her bedroom apart from the vase. It was good, it was something different.
The differences from expectation to reality almost always mean wonderful surprises. The band – Greta Gertler Gold, Jess Ciampa, Luke Escombe – wove themselves beautifully into the production as well as Ava’s narrative. Nicola Bowman played Ava with heart and care, and it was lovely to hear her Australian accent coming through naturally when she sung.
The show wasn’t afraid to be loud, layer discord, or go dark in moments. Director, Neil Gooding and his team have done well threading a cohesive story among many stylised elements on the original pages, helping to remind those watching that the first step in dealing with anxiety is not to put yourself down for feeling it.
James – 13 years old:
“I thought it was pretty good.”
The Red Tree
Fairfax Studio – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performances: 3 August 2019 – 11.00am
Image: The Red Tree – photo by Noni Carroll
Review: David Collins with Lily and James