When Andy Griffiths wrote the first book in the 13 Storey Treehouse series, it was a “pure experiment.”
“I asked Terry [Denton] to draw a treehouse with a bowling alley and a tank full of sharks […] and he drew a 13 storey tree house much bigger and better than anything I could have imagined,” explains Griffiths. He then wrote the story based on the treehouse Denton had drawn and from there they built a monstrously successful brand, and a tree-house that now stands at 91 storeys high. Taking it to the next level (pun intended), the books were first adapted as stage musicals by a punk rock director with unemployed students on a shoestring budget in Melbourne – and Griffiths absolutely loved it.
“I’m not precious about it. I think the book is one thing, and it’s a game of make believe with that individual reader,” he says, seeing the two experiences as separate entities.
“I don’t write the scripts because I don’t understand how to make an hour of theatre work; my skill is in how to make 365 pages work.”
Griffiths and Denton modelled the main characters – the young and inventive Andy and Terry – on themselves as children. Jill, the very smart, practical female friend is the avatar of Griffiths’ real wife, Jill. That authenticity is part of what makes the books so popular.
“We’re not writing something that we think kids will find funny; we’re writing stuff that we find funny,” says Griffiths. “We’re writing to entertain ourselves. Like when me and Terry and Jill are at the table drawing and throwing ideas around, we’re all kind of…we feel like we’re in primary school.”
It may also explain why the books and stage shows appeal to adults as much as children. The latest production is exuberant and fun, with fabulous costumes, clever sets and the employment of some very impressive effects
“I’m really happy with this production: the colours, the psychedelia of it…” says Griffiths.
That’s a pretty strong recommendation.
Jan 3-20. Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney. $39-$57+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com
By Rita Bratovich