‘The Red Balloon’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

‘The Red Balloon’ – Le Ballon Rouge – is a story written 60 years ago by Parisian author and film scriptwriter, Albert Lamorisse. The story was made into an Oscar winning film, released 59 years ago this week; the Oscar being presented for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).
Now, as part of the 2015 AWESOME Festival, the story has now been beautifully adapted by Hilary Bell for the Black Swan Theatre Company.
It is Black Swan’s first ‘family show’; a trend that I hope continues as catching the children young, ensures an audience for the future. Because the set was dark and eerie, and some of the dialogue had been left in French (voice coach Julia Moody), but this did not spoil the flow or enjoyment. The production was aimed at 6 – 12 year olds; however, my 3-year-old grandson was totally entranced. There have been two dozen, 50-minute performances of this World Premiere during the October school holidays, running until Saturday 17th October in the Studio Underground theatre, within the State Theatre of Western Australia complex, in Northbridge.

The scene is around the 1950s in Ménilmontant, a poor area of Paris. On each side of the stage is a ramshackle, three-storey house with shuttered windows. At the rear of the stage is a park with a small hill. At the edge of the stage is a rubbish tip, where vermin gather.

A young pupil, Pascal (Dylan Christidis alternating with Rory McLaughlin and Jack O’Neill), is late for school as usual. En route, he finds a large, red balloon tangled around a lamppost. He unties it, only to discover that the balloon has a mind of its own. Forgetting about school, the boy meanders around the neighbourhood entranced by his find.
In the early morning sun, a rat (Ben Mortley) searches for food in a dustbin. A pigeon (Ella Hetherington) looks for a statue to ‘decorate’. Pascal soon finds that the massive balloon is not as popular with everyone; his mother will not allow it in the house and the bus driver (St John Cowcher) will not allow him onboard.
The local wily cat (Sarah Nelson) rubs herself against Pascal, looking for affection and a chance to burst the balloon.
Soon Pascal meets a young girl with an equally large, blue balloon (Eloise Hunter alternating with Katie Price). Naturally, a friendship follows, but with bullies in the area, the two must take care.
Will the balloon stay safe? (Sky flying puppet by Chloe Flockart)

How often do producers think, ‘it is a kids’ show, the story can be simple, the scenery undemanding and the acting effortless – they won’t know any better’. However, nowadays the children are discerning. This simple story was filled with warmth, the outstanding scenery most impressive, and the acting first-class.
Nationally recognised director, Chrissie Parrott, has transferred her acclaimed ballet skills to these dramatic performers, they glide across the stage. The controllers of the balloon meld into the background as the children become hypnotised by the mobile, mysterious balloon.
Creative mentor, Kate Cherry, has helped assemble the atmospheric production.
The magnificent set and costume design is by possibly WA’s best designer, India Mehta. India’s sets always show a brilliant use of materials and ingenuity of construction, whether it is a house, boat, animal costume her work is jaw dropping. These Parisian houses had smoking chimneys, fire escapes, balconies, working shutters – and the whole assembly could be moved by two stage crew, Georgia Landre-Ord and Claudia Blagaich. With talented sound designer and composer, Ash Gibson Greig and lighting designer, Trent Suidgeest every sense was stimulated. You could feel the poverty, smell the decay and hear the creatures just out of view.
This was an extraordinary piece of theatre.