An Australian classic washes ashore at QPAC, Brisbane - a stage adaptation of Colin Thiele's Storm Boy. Nance Haxton reviews:

It was always going to be a hard task to deliver the Australian classic Storm Boy to the stage, with the sweeping vistas of the wild and windswept Coorong landscape such an integral part of Colin Thiele’s original story.

Storm Boy Southbank Theatre
Image courtesy of Jeff Busby

But from the outset the small boy sitting near me had his heart captured, immersed in the beauty of not only the rolling waves, but also laughing at the antics of the wooden puppets on stage.

We can all learn something from the way children come to the theatre, wide-eyed and open to possibility. From the outset, he saw the skeletal puppet pelicans on stage as real, as integral a part of the story as in Thiele’s original imaginings.

Image courtesy of Jeff Busby

It is remarkable what David Morton‘s puppets create on stage. From catching a ball to taking out the long line that saves the lives of drowning sailors, Mr Percival and the other pelicans come to life and pull on the emotions.

And intricate wooden puppets are used for other integral parts of the story too to great effect – the snake that threatens the reclusive Storm Boy (Conor Lowe) and forges the friendship with Fingerbone Bill (Tony Briggs), and the fairy penguins that set the scene of this faraway land. The puppeteers (Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton and Drew Wilson) deserve all the plaudits for not only creating incredibly visceral forms from nothing but wood, but with their skill in suspending disblief at Hideaway Tom’s (John Batchelor) hut in the Coorong. Each of these animals is a work of art in itself, intricate puzzles of up to 80 pieces that move in an incredibly lifelike way.

Conor Lowe & Tony Briggs (image courtesy of Jeff Busby)

Tom Holloway hasthe tough job of adapting Storm Boy for the stage, and to let the puppets bring the story to life. At times the story’s deeper meanings are lost, a necessary simplification to bring the show to a stage experience. The storm that is such a central part of the story is evocatively produced, on a small stage transformed to look as big as the sky. Lowe tugs at the emotions showing Storm Boy’s journey from childhood to adulthood, emphasising his loss for the orphaned pelican Mr Percival keenly.

Storm Boy Southbank Theatre
Conor Lowe (image courtesy of Jeff Busby)

This production of Storm Boy is a beautiful rendering of the Australian classic and a must for children of all ages. Dated as this 50 year old story may be, there’s a reason it still is relevant, with its journey of love and loss singing on the song lines brought by the gale winds from the Coorong.

★★★★☆

Storm Boy played at the Southbank Theatre, Melbourne until 20 July 2019. For more information, please visit the company website.