‘Storm Boy’ was breathtaking.
It is rare to sit in a darkened theatre surrounded by hundreds of strangers and be suddenly reminded what it felt like to have the imagination and awe of a child, but that is the magic of watching ‘Storm Boy’. Written by Colin Thiele and adapted for the stage by Tom Holloway, Queensland Theatre’s latest production is nothing short of a revelation.
In hushed silence, listening to a stunning underscore, watching hypnotic videos of Australia’s iconic coastline, and being enchanted by the animals brought to life through the work of puppetry, ‘Storm Boy’ is a heady experience. The tale of a young boy living in isolation with his father and his remarkable relationship with three pelicans is a fable for our times. The lessons of love, heroism, loss, and acceptance that ‘Storm Boy’ explores is unerringly pointed at the childlike heart of every audience member.
More than that though, the underlying simplicity of the lives shown on stage, the unwavering ecological messaging, and the elegance of a story that is at its core man vs. nature, and also man vs, himself, is instantly enthralling. Audiences will find themselves swept into the tale as if by an invisible undertow, that leaves you adrift in a place both familiar, and alien. A world so beautifully wrought through the elegance of Darrin Verhagen’s sound design and composition, which underpins almost every moment of the show.
Direction by Sam Strong, Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre, is impeccable and marries up beautifully with Anna Cordingley’s set design. The production becomes almost like a painting, and Strong makes ready use of stillnesses and silences that give the show a vast feeling punctuated by beautiful moments of urgent movement and explorations of humour. The moments of genuine laugh-out-loud hilarity smash up against the agonising loss, and the majesty of the show overcomes in waves, framing and enriching every aspect of the story.
As Hideaway Tom, John Batchelor is fearsome and bearlike. Gruffly storming away at his son, himself, and the world, and often scrambling for the words to explain the way he feels. Batchelor’s commanding performance is brilliant for the way that it slowly erodes into an acceptance of the changes that come into his life – new friends, a son who is focused on exploring the world around him, and three unruly pelicans who intrude upon his reclusive world with glee.
Tony Briggs makes Fingerbone Bill into the too popular Uncle who pops around to visit your family every other weekend. He is always unannounced, always tells the best stories, and he exudes love and life lessons with every breath he takes. Briggs brings an energy of camaraderie and freedom to the stage every time he walks on, with a booming laugh and a ready smile. He is a neat yin to Batchelor’s yang. Together the two of them are like mischievous children, and watching their friendship bloom is pure joy.
The standout performance is given by Storm Boy himself, Conor Lowe. There is something breathtakingly honest about his performance throughout the production. It is unencumbered by guile and has such joy and lightness to it, as Lowe leads audiences into the wildness of the dunes, and begins the unlikely friendship with a drifter, and three pelicans. Lowe allows Storm Boy’s openness to shine forth, changing the lives of everyone around him, and deeply impacting the audience along with it.
Sweeping the audience fully into the world of the story are the amazing puppets (created by David Morton) and their operators, Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton, and Drew Wilson. From the tiniest penguin lurking in the sand dunes to the majesty of the three pelicans, their giant wingspan set against the skyline is a vision. Audible gasps and cries of delight were elicited from the audience as the puppets and their masters played happily on stage. The immersive power of these creations drew tears from the crowded theatre, with many wiping their eyes as the house lights came up due to the grand nature of the experience.
The deep underlying metaphor of the show is best summed up by Briggs’ Fingerbone when he explains to Storm Boy that “life is like the ocean and the beaches. On the surface, it’s vast and still and unchanging, but underneath there is constant motion, and a great insatiable roiling that hungers for more.”
Every aspect of ‘Storm Boy’ mirrors this yearning, from the characters to the set. This beautiful story of life is full of lessons that need to be experienced. No one should miss out on this phenomenal opportunity.
‘Storm Boy’ is playing at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC, until Saturday, 17 August 2019. For ticketing and additional information visit http://www.queenslandtheatre.com.au.