Review: Red TreeGet the “lowdown” on the red tree

The ‘Red Tree’ is the most talked about production to come out of this year\'s

“Out of the Box” festival. Based on the acclaimed children’s book by the same name, written by Shaun Tan. The “Red Tree” is very much an emotive experience, being neither narrative nor story based. Rather it incorporates profound imagery, mass puppetry, fantastic synthesised music and sound and an intricate corroboration of symbols to involve the audience in an emotional journey rather than a physical one.

This journey does not however shy away from the darker side of life, and at times becomes very dark and negative revolving around themes of desolation, isolation and impending doom, which are not very suitable to the “Out of the Box” audience range of three to eight.

The original text was written by Shaun Tan and having only a few sentences of text the book relied heavily on the impact of some very beautiful art to communicate its meanings. The transformation of the text into dramatic form was done exceptionally well. Throughout the performance the production stayed true to the text, using a creative flair in manipulating the conventions of drama to achieve the entire range of deep emotional experiences found in the text. Also the performances methods of communicating with the audience were in keeping with Shaun Tan’s original ideas. The play used absolutely no meaningful dialogue, substituting the powerful imagery in the book with skilful manipulating of dramatic action, lighting and sound/music effects designed to create a mood and draw a response from the audience similar to the themes of the art. Also the visual symbolism found in the book becomes a key element to the performances successful creation of dramatic meaning. Using an array of symbols, some that were part of the book, like the red leaf and tree, fish etc.. And some that were introduced with the transformation to drama. All these symbols are designed to provide an array of emotional responses, rather than intellectual ones that would probably be lost on the young audience. The production showed an innovative approach to transforming the imagery in the book into dramatic form. By using a fantastic array of puppetry. Including a giant fish, a mass of angry buildings and planes and even a doll version of the main character, which was used to accomplish effects difficult to do with a live actor.

The performance space was used effectively to create the mood and emotive responses that were key aspects in the creation of dramatic action and meaning.

In keeping with the book, the focus never left the little girl who was the main character, and much of the dramatic tension is created in contrasting her with her surroundings, which at times are alienating barren. During which the space may be black and empty except for her alone, or used to depict a barren loneliness like in the “Don’t know what to do” scene. And at other times are alienating cluttered. During which the space will be filled with erratic things designed to create a mood of chaos and not belonging. For example the “ world is a deaf machine” or “without sense or reason” scenes. Time and place seem to hold only a symbolic value and variate constantly with emotional context, for example whenever the giant fish appears the music and sound effects will suddenly suggest that we are under water. Or the main character will go from a cityscape to being surrounded with water

As for the actual performances, although the play focused entirely on one character and only occasionally required any other actors, there was a group of puppeteers in black who very skilfully manipulated the objects on stage, giving the surroundings a life of there own, a good example of this is the ever present red leaf.

The reaction of the audience was varied. Throughout most of the play the three to eight year olds were stunned to silence. However the opening segments to many of the scenes tended to drag on a little too much for such short attention spans, they became restless and distracted easily, especially during the “nothing ever happens scene”

Also the depth of dark negative subject matter was not suitable to that age