Black Swan State Theatre Company’s adaptation of a charming modern classic wins hearts of all ages.
Hilary Bell has risen to the challenges of bringing The Red Balloon from the screen to the stage, writing a script that Chrissie Parrott directs with sympathetic flair. The result is a true family production, not a children’s show for grown-ups to endure, but a rich experience for all ages. Bell reflects the origin of the piece with French language being spoken by the human characters on stage. Meaning is more than adequately conveyed through tone, physical expression and a sumptuous soundtrack, with many giggles at the pigeon’s 9am poo appointments but no querulous confusion at the French dialogue.
The story is observed and narrated by a sophisticated, Parisian alley cat, who introduces the time and place of the dull and dingy stage setting. References to the recent war are clear for adults and teenagers, but the antics of her friends the cockney pigeon and the garbage-obsessed rat hold the attention of younger audience members. The animals introduce Pascal, the lonely boy living with his grandmother, who finds a bright red balloon with its string caught by a lamppost. Playing with the balloon, he soon finds that it has a mind of its own, and the boy and balloon become inseparable, sharing adventures.
The role of Pascal is shared across three actors, who take turns to perform each show. Opening night sees Dylan Christidis take the stage, with determined vigour in chasing the balloon, and heart breaking attachment to the affection offered by the toy. The role demands sustained focus, as the joy of finding a friend, the rebellious actions against adult restrictions and the fear of menacing bullies all take their places in Pascal’s life. Christidis conjures all of these elements admirably, and Rory McLaughlin and Jack O’Neill no doubt excel on the other nights.
Eloise Hunter plays the role of the girl with the blue balloon on opening night, a role she alternates with Katie Price. Hunter captures the delight of sharing friendship and balloons with Pascal as they dance with strings intertwining together. She also inhabits a world of musical beauty as she sings to a cello piece in the moonlight, and displays the beauty of compassion as Pascal clutches the rags of his broken balloon.
The adult cast members take on more than a simple part apiece. Between performing as various animals, puppeteers, dancers, shadow players and other humans, each brings many aspects to the stage. The interaction between Ella Hetherington’s statue-obsessed bird and Ben Mortley’s debonair rat provides plenty of side interest for any short attention spans. Sarah Nelson’s cat is a crowd pleaser with her self-assured movements, while the many roles of St John Cowcher are performed with unflagging good humour and a keen appreciation of slapstick.
The magic of the performance is bound together by the rich soundscape created by Ash Gibson Greig, whose compositions here would do justice to a full film, let alone this whimsical stage production. His sense of the changing emotional intensity brings another dimension to the action as well as to India Mehta’s set design, kept dull and drab with the subtle, emotive lighting designed by Trent Suidgeest. The rapid changes in mood and pace owe much to the multitalented cast, who are efficient in every shift of scene and deftly wrangle balloons, as well as to the clever set design.
Part of the AWESOME Festival, Black Swan State Theatre Company’s first family show remains true to the company’s expectations of quality performance and production, with director Parrott’s vision filling this simple tale with enchantment for all ages.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
The Red Balloon
by Albert Morisse | adapted by Hilary Bell
Director Chrissie Parrott
Venue: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth Cultural Centre
Dates: 1 – 17 October 2015
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | www.ticketek.com.au