Storm Boy – Sydney Theatre Company

Storm Boy causes that same simple, unexpected fullness of heart as when a small child comes up to you, tugs on your sleeve, and tells you they love you.

Rory Potter in Storm Boy. Picture by Brett Boardman.
Rory Potter in Storm Boy. Picture by Brett Boardman.

An adaptation of Colin Thiele’s classic children’s story, this John Sheedy-helmed play is a thoughtful meditation on love, kindness, and our connections to the people and world around us.

Storm Boy (Rory Potter) is living with his father Hideaway Tom (Peter O’Brien) in a shack on the beach – an arrangement that is a little less than legal. The Boy is encouraged to keep his head down and avoid contact with anyone else that might be around, but the curious, sensitive Boy soon comes home with not only a surprising new friend in Fingerbone Bill, (Trevor Jamieson), an older Indigenous man whose own presence on the beach seems dubious at first, but also with three abandoned pelican chicks.

His father, a little salty and gruff, reluctantly allows the boy to nurse the pelicans back to health – and allows Fingerbone Bill to stay for dinner – and from there this story, and the Boy’s little family, grows. The play asks if we can let go of the things we love, if we can express love, and if we understand that the world is more than our sole presence in it.

The set, designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell, is evocative and appropriately moody like the beach before dawn; there’s a boat, a door, and a whale/wing-like hill of a structure. There’s something spare about it all that gently triggers the imagination.

Photo by Brett Boardman.
Photo by Brett Boardman.

The puppets – the pelicans – are beautiful. Created by Annie Forbes and Tim Denton of Aboutface Productions, and with Peter Wilson as Puppetry Director, these pieces become fully realised characters. Manned by Shaka Cook and Michael Smith, the pelicans are lively, funny, and possess a sense of nobility, even when they’re deliberately pecking at Hideaway Tom’s rear end. There’s a great scene when the baby pelicans emerge from the hut fully grown in a clamour, and the majestic full-size puppets are revealed, that’s just full of joy and a little bit of slapstick – striking the perfect tone for the younger members of the audience as well as the adults.

This production’s sense of movement is notable and it’s wonderful to watch. The pelicans fly with all the joy of dance; Smith, in particular, is all long lines and elegance as he and the Boy’s beloved Mr Percival take their flight to freedom.

Rory Potter’s young boy is likable and aching with sensitivity; Potter is a remarkable talent who continues to impress. Jamieson and O’Brien balance their characters’ dad-style jokes well with the world-weariness of adulthood against the young boy’s innocent optimism, and support Potter well.

Damien Cooper’s lighting is subtle and extremely effective – the rising sun, the flash of lightning from a raging storm, it’s all believable and lived-in, with good use of shadow.  It plays well with Kingsley Reeve’s sound, his waves and the ocean blending well with the change of tides and times and Cooper’s lighting work.

Tom Holloway’s adaptation for the stage is clever and moves well in the theatre. While the show never quite feels new, like it’s caught in the memory of the source material’s nostalgia, it’s a lovely story with a good sense of its own magic. A surprisingly graceful production.

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Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue