Sydney Opera House
Such is the popularity of writer Andy Griffiths’ and illustrator Terry Denton’s children’s book The 13-Storey Treehouse that when the Sydney Opera House programmed a stage production in September it all but sold out before even opening – so a return season was announced quick smart.
It’s not the most obvious book to stage. For starters it’s set in, well, a 13-storey treehouse with a bowling alley, lemonade fountain, see-through swimming pool, man-eating shark tank, vines you can swing on and a secret underground laboratory. And then there are those pesky monkeys, a mermaid/sea monster, a marauding gorilla and a flying cat: all in a fun day’s work in the world according to Andy and Terry but far easier to conjure on the page than the stage.
The premise of the book is that it tells of all the adventures Andy and Terry have when they should be writing their overdue book – adventures, which ultimately become the story of the book.
For the stage production, writer Richard Tulloch gives this meta-joke a theatrical twist. Andy (Luke Joslin) and Terry (Mark Owen-Taylor) arrive at the Sydney Opera House to rehearse a play about the treehouse. The only trouble is they’ve forgotten to write a script or hire any actors and the opening night audience is already in the house.
Their no-nonsense stage manager Val (Sarah Woods) insists that the show must go on. And so with a box of props and a 2D-3D converter that brings drawings to life, they do indeed stage the story of The 13-Storey Treehouse – with the trusty Val agreeing under sufferance to take on the other roles (including the mermaid-sea monster) when they tell her that Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe were unavailable.
Directed by Julian Louis with design by Mark Thompson, lighting by Nicholas Higgins and sound by Jeremy Silver, the show relies on a large dose of imagination from the audience – which is cleverly, dare I say imaginatively, harnessed by the creative team.
However, the production’s success is also due in large part to the all-stops-out performances of Joslin and Owen-Taylor who both bring ripper comic timing and the manic energy of a hypo child to their roles, working their butts off.
There are some brilliant little moments. A drawing competition between Andy and Terry (which as the adults realise includes sleight-of-hand) drew gasps of appreciation from the kids near me, while the gorilla trampling Mr Barky triggered shrieks of laughter.
The 13-Storey Treehouse runs at the Sydney Opera House until January 25. Bookings: sydneyoperahouse.com or 02 9250 7777