Arts & Entertainment

The Red Tree

Illustration by Brian Vallesteros

Shaun Tan’s evocative book, The Red Tree, is reimagined and brought to life in this new work at Riverside Theatre. At the helm are the creative triumvirate of director, Neil Gooding, New York based composer Greta Gertler and much loved playwright Hilary Bell.

Adapting a book for the stage has its own challenges, though none as unique as Tan’s book. It has no dialogue, conflict, character or story – but is more a series of mood paintings, with an enigmatic girl, who seems to be having a very bad day. Yet Bell welcomed the challenges.

“I kept it very simple. When you adapt something that’s very loved, you need to be sensitive to other people’s relationship with the material.”

Acknowledging the implicit darkness of the book, whilst also introducing lightness and humour wherever it could be found, led Bell to the idea of a musical.

New York based singer song-writer Greta Gertler brings joy and pop-sensibility to the score. “Her music is melodic and deceptively simple,” says Bell, “It’s got a Brit-pop/sixties sound to it – the words can be quite dark while the music bright.”

In retreating from the world Ava (Nicola Bowman) goes to places without leaving her bedroom. Unassuming parts of her room suddenly morph, taking on narrative significance. “The set design is reminiscent of the book,” says Bell, “with beautiful painterly qualities to it.”

Bell laments the lack of quality theatre that is both appropriate and meaningful for a young teenage audience. “I know it’s a cliché but I think there is the potential in theatre to create beautiful magic and I really wanted to embrace that in this show.”

Oct 20-28. Riverside Theatres, Cnr Church and Market Streets, Parramatta. $34-$39. Tickets & Info: or Ph: (02) 8839 3399

By Greg Webster.

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