Friday, 22 July 2011

Guest Reviewer - Will Miller (7)

I went and saw a play called The Red Tree. It was about the book written by Shaun Tan. The play was about a girl who woke up one morning and had a really bad day and thought lots of really bad thoughts. She got stuck in a cage, then she found a big fish, and then she played a weird game.  She got very sad. But then she started to find red leaves and in her bedroom a red tree. Then she was very happy.

I liked the book because it was like a puzzle in each page because you have to find the red leaf – like on the stage, in each picture there was a red leaf from the red tree. I liked it how the play was done on different parts of a round stage, like different pages of the book.

It was frightening when the lighting struck and I freaked out when the girl was opening the noisy box! But there were funny bits too, like the clowns and when there were funny sounds when she was playing with the dice. The dice was big like in the book. There was no talking in the play except for singing. I thought it was interesting how the fish was made.

So the girl found her way home and she pulled a red leaf out of the wall and then all these sparkling red lights appeared and you could actually see the red tree -  crystal clear. And I wasn’t surprised that the girl couldn’t see the tree at first because she was imagining bad things and she couldn’t really see it.

I thought the girl’s acting was really good, like she really was crying - like she was lost or something. But then she found her hope somewhere, they were the leaves.

But I liked the play better than the book because it was funnier. The play was funny in some bits and the book wasn’t funny. I think the funny bits were put in so that we didn’t feel sad. At the end of the play I felt happy because she got all her hopes and the red tree appeared. I liked the bit when the red tree appeared because it made my heart sing.

Will Miller (7)

Will and Ella on Opening Night

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Guest Reviewer - Ciara Duffy (17)

Be Transported Into a Strange New World with Barking Gecko's magical adaptation of Shaun Tan's  The Red Tree

Barking Gecko Theatre Company is bringing Shaun Tan’s illustrations and story to life through a magical adaptation of his award winning illustrated book, The Red Tree, at the Subiaco Arts Centre in Perth. The story has been adapted and directed by John Sheedy, Artistic Director of the company, assisted by production manager Genevieve Jones. Designed by Gypsy Taylor, this presentational performance explores very real and pertinent issues such as depression, sadness, confusion and finally a great sense of hope, resilience, renewal and a bright awakening.
Barking Gecko have very successfully fulfilled their mission and vision by presenting, through this play, an extraordinary theatre experience set to ignite the imagination of young people and their families. This stunning adaptation is definitely suitable for people of all ages, and presents some of the most incredible theatrical experiences possible.
In his book, Western Australian author Shaun Tan explores the journey of a young girl whose day goes from bad to worse. She attempts to navigate her way through a strange and unfamiliar world, yet as all of her troubles overcome her at once, she realises that there is always renewal and a window of hope in life. The action of the play is set in each of the pages of the book as the illustrations are delicately recreated on stage.
The central character is ‘The Girl’, performed by physical actress Ella Hetherington. We are placed in her shoes as she journeys through her dark and confusing day. Hetherington constructs a very convincing characterisation, very nearly bringing the audience to tears and definitely to laughter. She has no speech throughout the performance, except moments when she is singing, yet we are still able to understand her journey and emotions through her intriguing facial expressions, movement and musical outbursts. The band, consisting of composers and musicians Clint Bracknell, David Salvaire and Dylan Hooper, bring ‘The Deaf Machine’ to life as they march and dance around the girl, singing “the world is a deaf machine” and throughout the play perform their original songs inspired by the words in the book.
One of the greatest aspects of the performance is how theatrical techniques such as lighting, props, live music and sound effects bring about the evolving scenes - the realms the girl has to overcome. The presentational stage, designed by Gypsy Taylor, works perfectly to distinguish between scenes through numerous cogs, spot lights and a movable set design. The gigantic inflatable cod fish is incorporated into the set to literally tower over the girl just like in the book, and sent the audience into rounds of applause as it magically came to life.
Together, lighting designer Matthew Marshall and sound designer Kingsley Reeve bring an incredible theatre experience to the design. One such moment is when Hetherington is clasping to the top of the mast of her boat while a series of strobe lighting and thunderous sound effects throw us all into her thunderstorm of a day.
The audience was left in awe by the video game atmosphere created when the girl finds that ‘terrible fates are inevitable’ as she circles the main cog and is pounded with uncertainty. As the bright, magical red tree behind the scrim curtain flickers to darkness at the end, we are reminded that nothing in life is absolute, but there is always a spark of hope. A thrilling experience with something in it for everyone, do not miss this amazing performance!
Ciara Duffy
Ciara with actress Ella Hetherington on Opening Night

Guest Reviewer - Susan Ryan (Parent reviewer)

Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree by The Barking Gecko Theatre Company                         

“Who are you?” growls the drummer (David Salvaire) to the little girl in Barking Gecko’s wondrous production of Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree. It is the recurring motif of the red leaf which helps both the girl and the audience to answer the existential question of our purpose and who we are. Although The Red Tree tackles the issue of depression, it is a life affirming and uplifting production which had the opening night’s audience clapping and cheering at various stages of the girl’s odyssey.

Ella Hetherington embodies the character of the girl perfectly; her often silent portrayal of confusion and fear is accompanied by agile and sinuous movement as she travels through the different alien worlds created on stage. Emerging reluctantly from her bed, the wide eyed girl enters a world designed evocatively by Gypsy Taylor and her team. Taylor’s amazingly clever and original presentation of the girl’s mind space reinforces her view that, “the world is a wilted balloon.” The looming groper, representing the weight of her mood, mesmerised audience members, young and old.

Just as in Tan’s brilliant book, the girl does not speak. John Sheedy (producer) imaginatively solves this dilemma by allowing a music band of three to communicate for her, which they do with great eloquence and skill. They play an integral part in conveying the girl’s responses and reactions to her challenging journey and carry the narrative of Tan’s picture book with remarkable effectiveness. Matthew Marshall’s inventive lighting, and imaginative and at times humorous sound effects by Kingsley Reeve help to include the audience in the girl’s search for hope and safety.

My ten year old daughter instantly recognised the various stages of the girl’s day from the pages of the book.  The seemingly impossible task of transferring the mood of the original pages to stage has been achieved magnificently by Sheedy and his team. How was the page about the snail and interminable time going to be portrayed? How do you demonstrate a world of depersonalised workers in a ‘deaf machine’? Half the enjoyment and magic of the play came from discovering just how wonderfully and ingeniously Barking Gecko was able to pull off this feat.  

Just when it seems that the weight of her problems is going to overwhelm the girl after a wild and manipulative puppet dance, a red leaf is found. As the girl retraces her steps to discover that a red leaf was hiding in each difficult situation, her relief is palpable. The band’s accompanying music slowly lifts in tempo and vitality as the metaphorical leaf indicates that there has always been hope, a way out of the gloom and despair. A joyous crescendo is reached as the girl and audience are presented with the radiant image of the red tree right where she started her journey. Circles of light pan across the audience including us in the girl’s release from grief and resulting leaps of unbridled delight.

This is one of the best plays for all ages that I have seen produced by a Perth company. The Red Tree does deal with issues of despair and hopelessness but it is overwhelmingly a play of rejoicing. It will inspire discussion on all levels with both children and adults as we read into the girl’s adventures our own understandings of despondency and our solutions to these matters. My daughter and I had a lengthy discussion in the car on the way home about what to do if you’re having a bad day and where to go for help. We had fun interpreting the plethora of intriguing images and ideas which the play pointed to, and returned home bursting with energy. This is a production which has excelled at its purpose to both educate and entertain, it is a must see for all!
Susan Ryan

Guest Reviewer - Olivia Nardini (Age 11)

A Review of Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree presented by Barking Gecko Theatre Company

The Red Tree opened Saturday 9 July 2011 at Subiaco Arts Centre.  Shaun Tan’s book, as many would know, has beautiful illustrations and words.  The play brings the book to life on stage with music, sound effects and lighting.

Although there is only one set, they use the space well and angle the set to suit everyone in the audience.  The set is as quirky as the book and Shaun Tan’s brilliant imagination!  A GIANT cog fills the stage with a small bed centre stage, and giant weather vanes of rooster, cat and tea kettle.  The set is smoky with pale lighting, mainly green and gold.

Ella Hetherington plays “the girl” and she plays her character amazingly!!  We follow her journey, sharing her discoveries, some funny, some SCARY, some sad.  Ella’s voice is beautiful and works well with the music.

All the musicians are great.  They’re quick, fast and energetic (I don’t know how they keep up) and make the audience want to join in with their catchy sounds and drums. 

When the red tree is revealed it’s a magical moment and by far the most beautiful part of the play.

Everything in the book is in the play and it is interesting.  Even the giant fish is there.  That’s my favourite part, when the GIANT green fish escapes from the sea chest and fills the stage!  (So BIG it touches people in the audience).  Nobody expects a GIANT is the best production I have seen.

Overall everything was brilliant and I’m sure Shaun Tan would be proud.

Suitable for children, but loud noises may scare younger children.

Olivia Nardini

Roll out the red carpet - Opening Night of The Red Tree

Barking Gecko premiered its adaptation of Shaun Tan's The Red Tree on Saturday to a full capacity crowd. Audience members both young and young at heart filled the Subiaco Arts Centre with a buzz of anticipation and excitement.
Described as "courageous direction", "elegant and captivating" - the reviews were pouring in even before the champagne was served. Check our Facebook page for links to the reviews and more photos.

Cast (Clint Bracknell, Dylan Hooper, Ella Hetherington, David Salvaire), Artistic Director John Sheedy and Production Designer Gypsy Taylor
Assistant Designer Alicia Clements, Production Designer Gypsy Taylor, Lighting Designer Matthew Marshall, Artistic Director John Sheedy, actress Ella Hetherington and Production Manager Genevieve Jones

Barking Gecko ladies - Robbyn Bracknell, Asher Brown, Kate Hancock, Katherine Mclean and Michelle Weall

Ella Hetherington with Bing and Christine Tan