Storm Boy Glides into Perth

John Sheedy Image - Brett Boardman
John Sheedy
Image – Brett Boardman

Storm Boy, arguably one of Australia’s best loved novels and movies, is now a successful theatre production, and after a sell out season in Sydney, arrives in Perth this week.

On the eve of its Perth premiere Craig Dalglish caught up with director John Sheedy to discuss the ancient art of story telling and pelicans.

Currently Barking Gecko’s artistic director, Sheedy has shared a variety of stories with young audiences since stepping into the role in 2011. He has written and directed an adaptation of the Craig Silvey’s children’s book The Amber Amulet, and, together with Gypsy Taylor, adapted Shaun Tan’s children’s book The Red Tree for the stage, directing the 2012 production which was part of the Perth International Arts Festival.

“Stories or story telling is an ancient tradition of education and passing on life lessons,” explains Sheedy. “Our country’s history lies in the ancient dreamtime stories of our Indigenous culture; stories that have been passed on and told over the past forty thousand years.”

Storm Boy, written by Colin Thiele, tells the tale of a boy’s last childhood summer before beginning the long trek to adulthood.  Spending time with his reclusive dad Hideaway, Storm Boy roams the savage landscape, navigating the waters and searching for debris and wildlife. Along the way he picks up some unlikely friends including the enigmatic Fingerbone Bill and a family of orphaned pelicans, including his favourite, Mr Percival.

Storm Boy goes beyond the poignancy of the friendship between a boy and a pelican in that there is also a wonderful bond forged between Storm Boy and the Indigenous Fingerbone Bill [giving Storm Boy] an unexpected education of belonging, connection to the natural land, loss and of letting go. In this production we experience the art form of story telling, and an almost dreamtime story approach woven richly through the conceptualization of this piece.”

Winning the 1977 Australian Film Institute Award for Best Movie, Storm Boy grossed over 2.5 million dollars at the Australian Box Office.  Starring Greg Rowe, Peter Cummins and David Gulpilil the movie introduced Storm Boy to a generation now in their late forties and early fifties.

2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of the book’s first publication and Sheedy hopes that his stage production will introduce this classic Australian story to a new generation.  Given that the performances for schools are a sell out, it’s a sure bet his hopes will be realised.

“I hope to literally bring these beautiful characters to life, and for those who know the book to fall in love with the story all over again. It’s a very simple piece of story telling filled with humor, pathos and a lot of Pelican chaos. I would also pack a few tissues!”

Storm Boy’s journey to the stage has taken four years.  Sheedy recalls, “it has involved three creative developments, three trips to the Coorong and a lot of Pelican talk. There is always a new challenge with every new project. But I also think that’s what makes the job interesting.”

Image - Brett Boardman
Image – Brett Boardman

Starring Trevor Jamieson (Secret River, Namatijira) as Fingerbone Bill and Peter O’Brien (The Flying Doctors, Underbelly, The Return) as Hideaway Tom the Perth production will introduce newcomers Joshua Challenor and Rory Potter as they alternate the role of Storm Boy.  Supporting the cast will be an array of puppet pelicans created and designed by  Michael Scott Mitchell.

“The cast are brilliant!” says Sheedy with excitement, “… in casting for the production I looked for vulnerability and humor”

Opening night will see Sheedy carrying out his usual ritual of ‘a good ‘ol chat’ with the cast back stage before handing it over to them followed by a Jameson’s on ice.  And what advice would he give aspiring directors while sipping his Jameson’s on ice?  “Persistence and determination are omnipotent!”

Sheedy’s next story will see him teaming up with Opera Australia to develop a new opera for children and families based on a Shaun Tan and John Marsden picture book, The Rabbits.

Adapted for the stage by Tom Holloway and directed by John Sheedy Storm Boy is a co-production by Perth’s Barking Gecko Theatre Company and The Sydney Theatre Company.

Following on from Storm Boy’s  sellout season in Sydney, Perth audiences will  have a chance to see the production at the State Theatre Centre’s Heath Ledger Theatre, until 5 October.

Tickets from Ticketek

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