I think what was most special to me about this performance is that I went with my mother 🙂 She is a primary school teacher and has taught this book often to her students and it has always been a favourite of hers- she even visited the location (although unfortunately it was completely dry when she visited due to drought). I remember when I was in primary we learnt from it as well- I think most Australian kids know this story!
Originally posted on The AU Review.
The Sydney Theatre Company’s Storm Boy stays true to the beloved childhood story, bringing recluse fisherman Hideaway Tom, his son “Storm Boy” and their home on the coast of the Coorong to life within the theatre of Wharf 1.
The production premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2013 and we were lucky enough to witness the reprise of veteran Boy, Rory Potter, who returned naturally to the stage and the role. The stage itself sets the scene of the coast perfectly- the cast is not large and nor is the story, which suits the smaller space. There is a constant ebb and flow of coastal sounds full of waves and gulls, and the whole area feels dry and salt crusted. The flat ground stage is mostly occupied by a large wooden skeletal outline (perhaps of a whale). This piece serves as both the shack and to extend the stage, as performers run over its spine and sit on the highest ledge. The scattered fishing nets and traps littering the ground look strong enough to capture “supper” and the single cane chair rustles as you would expect. It’s all very real and equally dream-like.
The realism continues into the characters, with Tom’s (Julian Garner) fisherman boots and his messy hair of salty sun-dyed locks hanging over his face with beard to match. You can almost sense his dried cracked skin and lips. All clothing is practical and worn with mended patches. Rory is more than comfortable as Boy. His youthful innocence is portrayed perfectly through a more uneducated structure of words and the unsure way he holds himself. Storm Boy is a character that is relatable for children, his character is grounded and his language simple and colloquial.
Fingerbone Bill (Jimi Bani) brings both lightness and depth to the story. He arrives as a bit of comedic relief and you can’t help but grin along with him. His is an instantly likable character, and it is he who gives Storm Boy his name, “a little storm boy that comes in with the storms and waves”. Fingerbone has plenty of laughs but his role also takes on a more serious note- that of a guide and teacher to both father and son on fostering their relationship. He also teaches Boy about his surrounding environment, and as a result we the audience feel as though he is guiding and asking us to understand it as well.
Hideaway Tom is just as distant and hard as I remember from the novel. In his own way he is just as awkward and unsure as his young son. At one point his fatherhood is compared to the boys adoption of pelicans, where it is questioned whether Tom has any more idea about raising Boy than Boy does of raising the pelicans. This relationship is the most important development of the story, as the two learn more about the other through the helpful guidance of Fingerbone, Mr Percival and the events that transpire.
The real stars of this production, though, are of course the pelican puppets. The mannerisms and puppetry is absolutely delightful! Indigenous puppeteers/dancers Anthony Mayor and Phil Dean Walford bring movement and life amongst the set as the pelicans caw and baw and scuttle around. There is something so magical when you see the look of captured wonder on the faces of children gazing at Pelicans taking flight into sky of the stage.
Storm Boy aims to delight its audience, both those who have grown up with the story and its new younger audience. I took my mother along to the production, as she has taught the novel to several years of her primary school classes and it is one of her all time favourites. She loved every moment, and commented that what made it so enjoyable was the adaptions dedication in being true to the original story and its messages.
For within the light story we are all reminded of the constant ebb and flow of life, as Storm Boy says “things change I reackon. Sometimes its sad and sometimes its good. You just gotta go with it. That’s what I reackon”. Yeah I reackon too, Boy.
Photos courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company / Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s production of Storm Boy © Brett Boardman