Hanna’s Arcade will be transformed into a Parisian wonderland as High Country Theatre produces a new adaptation of the classic film, The Red Balloon. We go behind the scenes with Barbara Albury to find out more …
Tell our readers about the history of the play, The Red Balloon.
Our play, The Red Balloon, is based on Albert Lamorisse’s famous 1956 film about a young boy who makes friends with a stray balloon. It remains one of the most beloved children’s films of all time. Set in the streets of Paris and using his own two children as the main characters, filmmaker Lamorisse documented both a struggling post-war era, as well as creating a testament to the power of love and courage to overcome evil.
There is much humour as well as some sadness in the film, as there is in our play. Its finale has a touch of mysticism, with all the balloons in Paris helping Pascal fly away to a better world.
When asked in a recent interview about the meaning of the fantasy ending, the now elderly Pascal would not give an answer. We can only wonder.
The film received many accolades, including an Oscar for best original screenplay and the Palme d’Or for short films at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
Enlighten us as to what the play is about.
The Red Balloon tells the story of the unusual and touching friendship between a lonely young boy called Pascal and a large red balloon, which he finds tied to a lamp-post. As Pascal plays with his newfound toy, he realises it has a mind of its own. It begins to follow Pascal everywhere he goes – playing mischievous games with him, but ultimately becoming his loyal friend. Hanna’s Arcade will become Paris as we take you on this marvellous adventure through its back streets.
How will your adaptation differ?
The Red Balloon is a very human story about friendship and courage in the face of bullying and isolation. In adapting it to the stage, we have kept all these vital elements – which are still so relevant in our modern world. However, we have added more dialogue, music and characters, and also movement and songs.
I hear that it will not be staged in a theatre; can you tell us a little more about why you chose the location that you did?
We felt we needed a unique setting for The Red Balloon – some place which would recreate the look and feel of the streets of Paris. Our quest took us to Hanna’s Arcade, one of the most elegant spaces in Armidale, with its wooden panelling, balconies with carved railings and rows of old-fashioned lights along the walls. We got permission from Hanna’s Arcade management, and we are very grateful for their generosity and willingness to help in every way. We also received assistance from Armidale Dumaresq Council to create Paris in Armidale, a small pre-show teaser for the August Markets in the Mall.
We liked the idea of doing a theatre-in-the-round (or theatre-in the-square) production,
thereby involving the audience more directly in the action. It’s a challenge, but it will allow us to devise a reality which goes beyond a traditional theatre space. For example, we will have shop vendors up in the balconies calling out to each other as they set up their wares, creating the busy working life of a city.
What challenges will you have to overcome working in such an area?
The main challenge is to make a cohesive story that moves along at a good pace and also creates a little bit of magic. Another challenge is to find a way of getting the balloon to follow Pascal independently – at a distance? One of our young performers has the solution. But it’s a secret.
What dynamic will this bring to the audiences?
The Red Balloon is only about 50 minutes long, but with lots of fun and action. So, there should be something for everyone. We would like the audience to be totally immersed in the show and to take away a positive memory of it.
Tell us about some of your local actors/actresses.
As with The Little Prince last year, we will be using performers of all ages. Many of them have worked with us before, and they are terrific. Despite age differences, a show like this brings them together, and they become a unified team. As with the musicians, tech crew and front-of house personnel … It’s amazing, but it happens.
What can the viewer expect when watching one of your adaptations?
Something different. Something imaginative. Something unique. I always aim for a professional looking and sounding production, with minimum means.
The magic of theatre can be created by invoking the power of the imagination to see things that are not really there.
15, 16, 17 and 22, 23, 24 September.
(Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7pm, Sundays at 3pm.)
Bookings Carrs Newsagency 6772 3534 and highcountrytheatre.com Information: Barbara 0427 729 529
Photography by Suresh Kumar.