#SheReviews Storm Boy

August 5, 2019

Photography Credit: Jeff Busby

Do you remember reading Storm Boy at school? I do. It was one of the first Australian novels I’d ever read and it was a revelation for this bookish little Redcliffe girl who’d also grown up barefoot and beach-combing by the sea. Did you know that the novel Storm Boy is 55 years young this year? Just like me. We have a lot in common this story and I and I think this is one of the reasons Storm Boy is so well loved and enduring. We can all relate to so many of the themes. There is that quiet relationship between males, the loss of a Mum, the joy of a friendship, the comfort of a pet, the deep sadness when you lose a pet or a person, the trials of growing up. Where do we fit in ? Who do we trust? Who do we love? Human emotions are at the very root of this story, even though Mr Percival is at the heart.

I was so excited to see this acclaimed Tom Holloway play here in The Playhouse at QPAC. She Society had been given a behind the scenes tour and I had seen some of the set and met the puppets up close and personal during the day. My excitement was palpable and I couldn’t wait to see my husband’s reactions. For the record he loved it too.

This play is a joint production between Queensland Theatre and the Melbourne Theatre Company. There are also puppets! Puppets from the brilliant Dead Puppet Society. We spoke to director Sam Strong and David Morton from Dead Puppet Society. I found out later that David Morton went to the school where I teach, where my boys went to school. What a talented bunch we Payne Roadies are! 

The fashionable Opening Night crowd were hushed as the lights came on and the beach shack deep in the dunes of the Coorong came to life. The set of pale blues, greens, beige and cream reflected the calm and peaceful life being lived by the reclusive Hideaway Tom and his Boy. Nothing ever changes in the Coorong. The Boy and his father are safe.

During the long summer Storm Boy makes two friends who will change the trajectory of his life. The joker, Fingerbone Bill teaches him about his country and friendship; and Mr Percival, an orphaned pelican prepares Storm Boy for the wider world with a poignant lesson about love, loss and letting go. This bittersweet story touched the hearts of the young and old in the audience with its masterful puppetry and boundless imagination. 

The  cast were superb. John Batchelor played Hideaway Tom with suitable gruffness and periods of silence in the beginning , before opening up as the play progressed, showing humour and love. I remembered Tony Briggs from the brilliant Black is the New White last year and as always he conveys his humour and zest for life. He endears himself to the audience the minute he comes on stage. An excellent portrayal of Fingerbone Bill. 

Then there is young Conor Lowe, as Storm Boy. Thin as a reed, sharp as a tack. He plays the role with wonder and sensitivity and a strong sense of place and timing. He breathes love into the puppets as much as the puppeteers. I look forward to following his undoubtedly brilliant career.

Lastly there are those amazing puppets! Creatures from the Coorong, like my favourite fairy penguins waddling through the dunes and three magnificent, soaring pelicans. Although made of metal and covered with laser cut balsa wood each has its own personality and the range of movements that can be achieved by each of the three puppeteers has to be seen to be believed. David said, ‘ It’s all in the eyes.The eyes are the most expensive part of the puppet. They are made of volcanic glass and we send them away so that artisans can cut the eyes to the exact measurements. ‘ It did feel like Mr Percival was looking right at me. I also marvelled at the ease with which the puppeteers guided the puppets across the stage. Up close these puppets are really heavy.

 Director Sam Strong said, ‘ One of the gifts of using puppetry is that you can bring the relationships to life in a way that is even more human and more affecting than if you were using real animals. Puppets ( and especially their puppeteers) can interact with actors in a controlled and focused way that real animals can’t. At the very least they are a lot easier to work with than a live animal.’ These are puppets in their most modern and endearing form. Children and adults alike will fall in love with these amazing creations. 

Storm Boy is a play that you can take your whole family to and this is often hard to find. I  remember the first show we took the boys to as a family. It was a hilarious and fast paced comedy version of The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre in London. They laughed out loud, gasped and all had a wonderful time. They are now lifelong theatregoers because of that first exciting experience. Storm Boy would be a wonderful introduction to the theatre for any child and I hope that plenty of school groups will head along to enjoy the experience of a classic novel performed in such a unique way. Who knows it might inspire more puppeteers and thespians in the future.

This show will inspire you, excite you and delight you.There is sadness, drama, humour and love. It brings out the child in the adults and speaks to the adult in the child. As Sam says, ‘ We all remember the first the first show we saw, whether we were taken by our parents, our  grandparents or a friend. I hope this version of Storm Boy will be that formative theatrical experience that makes people fall in love with the theatre for the rest of their lives.’

Storm Boy is a beautiful, moving play and one for all ages. It will remind you of simpler times and re-ignite that childlike wonder in us all. Queensland Theatre’s Storm Boy is now playing at The Playhouse, QPAC until August 17. It will remind you to spread your wings and soar. 

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