The Red Tree
The Red Tree

Tackling the complexities of childhood anxiety and depression, Shaun Tan’s picture book The Red Tree comes to life this school holidays in The Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House.


Deeply provocative, this is a narrative that will shake you to your core as you watch protagonist Ava search her soul for the courage to confront the overwhelming fears that prevent her from even leaving her room. Played out against a musical backdrop by white-clad musicians who pop in and out of the story, the lyrics are both beautiful and powerfully emotive.


Surreal images inspired by the illustrations from the book convey the darkness and trepidation crowding Ava’s mind. The feelings of urban loneliness, self-doubt and a sense of being adrift and drowning in a world where no one truly understands you are brought to life on stage.


Ava is the shy girl who can’t get up on stage, the lost girl who’s become consumed by her own fear, the girl who can’t move forward… until, a spark of hope is ignited in the darkness. Having allowed herself to be consumed by the very thing she has been plagued by all along, there in the abyss she finally finds the strength to save herself.


From that spark blooms her renewed faith and optimism. The musicians who to a degree are the voices in Ava’s head become a tangible human connection by the end and Ava’s self-realisation of all she is missing due to her anxieties suggests a change in direction may just be on the horizon.


I spoke to a woman after the production whose 11yo son suffers with anxiety and she asserted that the more complex issues such as these are presented through the medium of theatre the better, as a way to connect with those youngsters looking for a story that relates to their own.


Not an easy subject matter to be immersed in on a Saturday afternoon by any means but one that is undeniably important for people to recognise in order to help those dealing with mental health issues.


The Red Tree plays at the Opera House from now until Wednesday 10 July. Book your tickets here.


What you need to know:


What: The Red Tree

Where: The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House

When: 6-10 July

Duration: 60 minutes approximately (no interval)

Who: Intended for kids aged 8+

Tickets: $29 (+$8.50 booking fee)

Facilities: Big bags will need to be cloaked ahead of the performance, ticketed pram parking is available and toilets are located at either end of the mezzanine level where the Playhouse is located.

Parking: You can Book a Bay in the Wilsons Parking carpark beneath the Opera House. Weekday rates start at $13 for an hour with 30 minutes leeway either side, while there is a flat rate of $12 on the weekend if you book online and you can park all day up till 5pm. In addition, if you’re planning to make a day of it, there is a special school holiday rate of $21/day.
Getting There: If using public transport, your nearest train station and ferry quay is Circular Quay, while there are plenty of buses that will take you to Circular Quay as well with a short 5-10 minute walk to your ultimate destination.

Note: Photography and recording is not permitted so make sure phones are switched off.