***.5 stars

by Laura Hartnell

If you know a child under the age of twelve, it’s likely that you’ve heard of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s Treehouse series for children. The books follow Andy and Terry and their friend Jill (Andy’s real-life wife and editor) as they build the tallest, most ridiculous treehouse the world has ever.

In the books, the treehouse currently stands at a whopping 117 storeys (they build 13 stories per book), full of desert island levels and shark tanks, ice skating rinks and   giant spider webs, which provides plenty of fodder for Andy, Terry and Jill to get into all sorts of spots of bother.

Richard Tulloch’s stage adaptations of the series have become a staple of the school holidays in cities around Australia, and his most recent adaptation of 2017’s ‘91-Storey Treehouse’ is a slapstick romp of a show. It sees Andy (Samuel Welsh), Terry (Teale Howie) and Jill (Rebecca Rolle) reluctantly agree to babysit the three grandchildren of their publisher Mr Bignose, consult a shoddy fortune teller Madame Know-It-All (Samantha Young), get stuck in whirlpools and spider webs, and try very hard not to push a big red button. It is one sticky situation after another, full of toilet humour, physical comedy, and funny voices – a slightly check-box but still very welcome list of the things kids love.

The young cast through themselves into their performances with energy and earnestness. They nail the physical comedy, and the camaraderie between them injects the production with a great energy that makes the audience of kids and parents feel just as much a part of the tree-house as those onstage. Samantha Young gives a spirited performance as both Madame Know-It-All and a very funny disgruntled genie, and delivers both roles with aplomb.

The set is simple but used to great effect, particularly the in-built slide which gives the action on stage a joyful playground vibe. The use of puppetry for Mr Bignose and his grandchildren works well, but the puppeteering could be slightly more imaginative and integrated.

The sound design on the opening night was a bit unbalanced, so at times it was difficult to hear everything going on onstage, but I am sure this will have been quickly fixed.

’91 Storey Treehouse’ is advertised for children 6+, but it was possibly a bit young for the 10-year-old I took (though her 7-year-old loved it and was just the right age). It’s a great hour of entertainment for anyone who wants to let out their inner child – just don’t push the Big Red Button…

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