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The Red Tree – Chloe Pinker
On Friday the 17th of February at the Albany Entertainment Centre, The Barking Gecko Theatre Company was staging a performance of The Red Tree written by author and playwright Shaun Tan and directed by John Sheedy. Four actors are featured in the production and all were present on stage throughout the performance. Ella Hetherington played the lead role of the performance, she played the character of a little girl.

The plot and meaning of The Red Tree is left, largely, for the audience to interpret. It is almost completely silent apart from some music used to create an atmosphere for the audience to become immersed in. The basis of the play is that a nameless young girl (Ella Hetherington) wanders through different situations, each of which is symbolic to an emotion. Through her actions and use of space, dramatic tension is created and the audience is left wondering just what will happen next.

Only four actors appear throughout the play, three of which are live musicians. Clint Bracknell, David Salvaire and Dylan Hooper act as musicians, adding suspense to each scene. Though they are not in the spotlight, they are equally as important to the atmosphere of the play as the lead actress. Ella Hetherington uses facial expression, body language and the the stage to create an engaging performance that left me anxious for more. Her emphasis is on the almost desperate actions of her character, making me feel for her as she struggles on her lonely journey through the various situations placed before her.

Upon entering the space, the curtain is already drawn back. Cogs and other strange items are set across the entire stage. When performing, Ella Hetherington uses almost every part of the stage. With all the scenes set up in one space, it creates an atmosphere of wonder and interest. As the story progresses, the set is used to its full potential, with the protagonist moving from situation to situation with the greatest of ease.

Lighting played a huge role in the overall presentation of the play. As the situations changed, so did the lighting. Different colours and styles of light created new dimensions which changed the atmosphere and mood to suit the emotions. At one point, blinding flashes of light were used to distract the audience, while the girl changed her position. Costumes for the characters were simple, but effective. The girl wore nothing more than a child’s dress, making her seem small in comparison to her environment. The most prominent means for creating atmosphere, however, was the music. All of it was performed live and the exact timing used added to the character conflict.

In the beginning, there seems to be no plot or storyline, only a small girl struggling through different situations that seem to have no connection to one another. However, these scenes actually represent the different emotions the character is experiencing. From sadness to fear until eventually, at the very end, she finds hope in the form of a red leaf. She then races back through each situation, no longer frightened, and finds this symbol of hope at each location. It is clear to me that the final message is finding something at the end of the journey, something good. The red leaves symbolise this and when each situation is searched through again, the symbol is found there. 

Overall, I thought it was an amazing play and I would recommend it to anyone. If I ever get the chance, I would definitely go to see it again.