There’s a first time for everything, and this week was the first time I saw a piece of theatre based on a picture book.
Featherweight Theatre have recreated Shaun Tan’s book, The Red Tree, using puppetry, mime, dance and a whole host of other little tricks that add up to a heartwarming, captivating experience. For a full hour, I felt mesmerised by the cast’s movement, the inventive props, the quirky soundtrack. Everyone has bad days, days where nothing goes right and everything feels like hard work and apathy takes over; I admired the way that Featherweight expressed those feelings wordlessly but still so articulately.
We watch The Girl, played expressively by Madeline Shann as she navigates a dark day in which she is thwarted at every turn. Everyone around her has it together. Everyone else knows who they are and where they are going but she feels lost and alone. It’s hard to describe the heartwrenching poignancy with which Featherweight bring Shaun Tan’s simple but never simplistic words to life: I felt genuinely moved. This performance could easily have been all about the visuals, which were gorgeous, but it had a big heart, too.
The clever use of props helps to create a storybook aesthetic. Little torches and a paper boat are used to show a storm at sea, Shaun Tan’s words are projected with paper stencils onto a screen, a huge sheet of thin plastic is the sea, then a jellyfish, then an eel, then a cage. It’s literally like watching the most elaborate popup book, where each page reveals a marvellous new scene just as delightful as the last. The whole process is witty and imaginative, and perfectly pitched at older children, who will love this.
I saw a preview of The Red Tree at Headingley Heart. The show will be playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. Featherweight are still raising funds for this so if you’ve seen The Red Tree or if you want to help them out, then take a look at this link.
Featherweight very kindly gave me a complimentary ticket to The Red Tree. However I donated the price of my ticket to their Edinburgh fundraising project.