Storm Boy: review

Wharf 1, August 18

Rory Potter and Michael Smith. Photo: Brett Boardman

Rory Potter and Michael Smith. Photo: Brett Boardman

Colin Thiele’s much-loved 1963 children’s novel Storm Boy is a contemporary classic, its profile enhanced by the 1976 film. Now comes a beautiful stage adaptation by Sydney Theatre Company and Perth’s Barking Gecko Theatre Company.

Adapted by Tom Holloway and directed by John Sheedy, there is a lovely simplicity to every aspect of the production that suits the story.

Bereft widower Hideaway Tom has moved with his son to an isolated beach shack in the Coorong region of South Australia where they are living a simple life as fishermen.There, the boy befriends a local Aboriginal man named Fingerbone Bill who teaches him about the connection of all living things and the cycle of life. When they discover three motherless pelican chicks, Storm Boy raises them and forms a close bond with one he calls Mr Percival, only for hunters to eventually kill him too.

Michael Scott-Mitchell’s poetic set features a large, curving, wooden skeletal frame that suggests both a beached whale and a sand dune, with a walkway across the top of it and a door set into it for the shack. On the stage in front, is a rowing boat and fishing gear.

Kingsley Reeve’s sound design instantly transports you to beach with the sounds of rolling waves and wind, while plaintive piano music adds to the feel of melancholy.

The storm scene, in which Storm Boy and Mr Percival help save several sailors, is excitingly staged with Damien Cooper’s lighting a key element in evoking the drama.

The pelicans meanwhile are portrayed by a series of wonderful puppets designed by Peter Wilson and created by Annie Forbes and Tim Denton that exude personality. Some of them dart around on wheeled feet while others fly, operated by Shaka Cook and Michael Smith who move with the earthy physicality of Aboriginal dancers. At other times, Cook and Smith simply watch, embodying local Indigenous spirits.

As Storm Boy (a role he shares with Joshua Challenor), Rory Potter proves once again to be a natural on stage. Peter O’Brien convincingly conveys Hideaway Tom’s numbing grief and gradual thawing, while Trevor Jamieson is endearing as the wise, joke-cracking Fingerbone Bill.

The production doesn’t shy away from the themes of grief and death, but nor does it overplay them and become schmaltzy. Instead it has a gentle, melancholic tone tempered with humour. The pelicans biting Hideaway Tom’s bum had children around me laughing delightedly, before shedding tears at Mr Percival’s death.

Storm Boy plays at Wharf 1 until September 8

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on August 25

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