Slingsby’s Hall of Possibility, where This Tree is a Story (about everything, including you, as told by me) is performed, has all the cobbled-together appeal of Fringe: a church hall at the end of a lane, a mish-mash of wooden seats and benches, a homespun set, an overhead projector.
The story begins with performer Joshua Campton seated at a desk, mixing ingredients in a jug, creating new elements. “In the beginning there was nothing,” says Edgell Junior Edgell, “and then there was everything.” Overhead projections and scraps of fabric held by the cast simulate a Big Bang, followed by stories from the ensemble.
Through Indigenous dance and music, Campton tells us about learning to care for country, the devastation of bushfires and the restorative power of trees. Alexis West remembers the macadamia tree in her grandparents’ backyard and the sweetness of the nuts when released by gentle tapping rather than heavy-handed smashing.
Delia Olam talks (and sings beautifully) about her childhood love of books and forests, and Jennifer Stefanidis celebrates her grandparents’ olive tree that wouldn’t grow in the cold of northern Greece but flourishes in the South Australian climate.
Edgell Junior Edgell illustrates the importance of the coconut tree in Vanuatu: a coconut is planted when a child is born and the tree grows with the child. When the child grows old and dies, a leaf from the same tree is buried with them.
There’s a sweet simplicity to this old-school storytelling and its use of subtle metaphor to highlight the bonds between humans and trees while hinting at a grander history. The scenes are peppered with moments of low-tech magic – Hansel and Gretel portrayed by two sets of fingers walking the length of a cello; the trees breathing puffs of cloudy oxygen – but the technical presentation occasionally falls short.
Shadow images are not always clear, the cut-outs appearing wobbly against the background or obscured by arms and hands. The ambition is admirable and the personal stories engaging, but the interwoven links to the bigger story are sometimes difficult to decipher.
This Tree is a Story is at Slingsby’s Hall of Possibility on March 5 at 2pm and 6pm.
Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.