The pelican puppets in this production were so cool- so of course I had to ask about them!
The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.
Set on the coast of Coorong in South Australia, the classic novel Storm Boy has long been a childhood favourite. The tale follows Hideaway Tom and his son “Storm Boy”, and the friendships they form with a local indigenous man called Fingerbone Bill and three orphaned pelicans. The theatrical production of Storm Boy premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2013, and this year sees the productions triumphant return to Wharf 1 under the careful guidance of Director John Sheedy.
The AU spoke with John about the latest production, discussing his own take on the beloved story and the struggles of creating pooping pelican puppets!
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into directing Storm Boy?
I grew up on the costal town of Torquay, Victoria, so the beach was my backyard really. Storm Boy was my favorite book as a kid as that sense of isolation and growing up on a wild coastline resonated with me. The journey of Storm Boy and his beloved Mr Percival is one that has stayed with me my whole life. When I became the Artistic Director of Baring Gecko Theatre Company, Storm Boy was the first on my list to bring to the stage. The conversation then went to Andrew and Cate and the team at the STC, a partnership was forged and in 2013 Storm Boy had it’s world premiere at The Wharf, a very fitting place for a Pelican’s stage debut!
What is your personal take on the beloved story, and how did that form your vision for the production?
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. An unexpected education of belonging, connection to the natural land, loss and of letting go. We experience an ancient art form of storytelling, and an almost Dreamtime story approach woven richly through the conceptualization of this piece.
How did you and the creative team bring the coast of the Southern Ocean to life on stage?
The Shows sound designer, Kingsley Reeve spent a week camping and recording the wild southern ocean and winds to create an authentic soundscape that the audience can be submerged in. Set and Costume designer Michael Scott Mitchell and I also went on a trip to the Coorong and spent a few days taking many photographs of the shifting landscape, sweeping sand dunes and wildlife. Being able to capture these details, Michael has encapsulated these elements in his design – a breathtaking work that truly honors the landscape that resonated so strongly with Thiele.
The show also brings many characters (namely pelicans!) to life through puppetry. How did you need to consider these puppets when directing?
It was the million-dollar question when discussing the stage adaptation, Mr Percival is our leading man and his brothers play a huge part as the comic relief in the story telling. Michael Scott Mitchell and the STC props department have created several versions of the P’s that allows them to click and clack, fly and flap, peck and play fetch, pretty much everything but poo – which I really wanted!
How much did you consider cues from either the original novel, the adapted film or the 1996 Bell Shakespeare adaption in your production?
I never saw the Bell production nor did Tom. It was difficult to stay away from the film, however, Tom Holloway, in this adaptation, has honored the original novel and brought all the elements of Thiele’s original novel to the stage.
You have had an amazing career working with some of Australia’s most respected theatre companies. What sets Sydney Theatre Company apart?
STC is the mother ship of all theatre company’s in Australia, it is incredibly resourced and has a super talented team of people with a passion and commitment to creating world class theatre. It’s also housed in one of the worlds most spectacular locations – who doesn’t want that view!
If there was one thing your audience could take away from this production, what do you hope it would be?
My vision is to introduce this classic Australian story to a new generation, to literally bring these beautiful characters to life, and for those who already know the story of Storm Boy to fall in love with it all over again.
And finally, do you have a favorite scene or character from Storm Boy?
Yes, the Pelican chaos scene, especially the moment when Mr Percival pecks Hideaway Tom on the bum – Although I would love it even more if he could poo as well!
Photos courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company / Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s production of Storm Boy © Brett Boardman