In Australia where almost seven percent of children suffer from anxiety, The Red Tree is both timely and beautiful.

A musical adaption of Shaun Tan’s picture book, The Red Tree tells the story of Ava (Nicola Bowman), an eleven-year-old girl who is so paralysed by fear that she cannot leave her room. “Sometimes the day the day begins with nothing to look forward to and things go from bad to worse.” Ava’s imagination and fears take shape in front of our eyes. She explores them, tries to hide from them and is eventually eaten alive by them.

This original adaption by Hilary Bell for the National Theatre of Parramatta is written with great restraint. The reverence and sensitivity to the sparseness of the original text is well placed. The voice of Ava stays true and believable.

The performance of Ava by Nicola Bowman was unfaltering. Vocals were strong and clear cutting through the air and holding the audience’s gaze. Her onstage presence was grounded and authentic. Bowman’s embodiment of Ava was never piteous but always real. The idea that for this girl anxiety was everyday was clear.

Music by Greta Gertler Gold was both driving and captivating with enough pop-sensitivity that by five minutes into the show the children in the audience were already singing along and being shooshed by their parents. The idea of having the musicians (Ben Fink, Bonnie Stewart) on-stage and incorporated in the performance was both fun and interesting to watch. The stage crew (Concey Bosco, Amanda Sullo) becoming part of the show was a nice touch and worked really well within the open space of the Lennox Theatre.

Special mentions must be made to the designer James Brown, the puppetry consultant Fiona Gentle, lighting designer Verity Hampson and video media design Mic Gruchy. All three elements combined to bring Shawn Tan’s idea to life. Innovative and imaginative use of what was a simple set through use of moving walls, trap-doors and projection. The puppets were so well done and helped push us into a story world where all of the audience were still children; we were spellbound.

My junior reviewers (7,11) loved the play and have asked me daily to return. There was not a moment where their attention waned. Ages recommended were 8+, but I would suggest that it is completely suitable for younger ages of 5 or 6yrs up to adults.

A sensitive treatment of what remains a beautiful and necessary piece of children’s literature. I’m happy to see narratives of mental health taken to the stage and given the type of professional treatment that is worth of national and international acclaim.

Christina Donoghue – Theatre Now & On The Town


The Red Tree

A piece of music theatre
Based on the book by Shaun Tan

!Book Tickets


19 – 28 Oct 2017

Thursday 19 October 10am (School Performance)
Friday 20 October 1pm and 7pm
Saturday 21 October 2pm and 7pm (Opening Night)
Monday 23 October 10am
Tuesday 24 October 10am and 1pm (School Performances)
Wednesday 25 October 10am (School Performance) and 1pm
Thursday 26 October 10am (School Performance) and 7pm
Friday 27 October 10am (School Performance)
Saturday 28 October 2pm and 7pm


Venue: Riverside: Lennox Theatre
Theatre Company: National Theatre of Parramatta

Duration: 75 minutes (No interval plus Q&A for schools performances)

When the dice is always loaded against you how do you move forward?

Join us for an extraordinary journey to a world of imagination where origami boats take you on an ocean voyage, giant fish host musical interludes, and parades pass you by. This is the story of a young girl living inside her bedroom and how she conquers her fears and anxieties, finally embracing hope and taking control of the world that has always been around her.

The Red Tree is a new work of music theatre. National Theatre of Parramatta has commissioned writer Hilary Bell and songrwriter and composer Greta Gertler Gold to adapt Shaun Tan’s award-winning book, directed by Neil Gooding.

The score fuses pop, classical and traditional musical theatre elements with sound design and digital recording technology in an exciting, contemporary fashion.

Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree won the Patricia Wrightson prize in the NSW Premier’s Book Awards, and was awarded the ‘le Prix Octogones 2003’ prize by the Centre International d’Etudes en Literature de Jeunesse, following its translation into French.

Produced by arrangement with Hachette Australia Pty Ltd.

Recommended for: Ages 8 – 108

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