Picture One: John Batchelor, Tony Briggs and Conor Lowe in front of Justin Harrison’s projection. Picture two: Conor Lowe and the playful pelicans. Photos by Jeff Busby.
By Colin Thiele
Adapted for the stage by Tom Holloway
Directed by Sam Strong
A Queensland Theatre/Melbourne Theatre Company co-production
In association Dead Puppet Society
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Season: July 29-August 17: Duration: 90 minutes without interval. Bookings: www.qpac.com.au or phone 136 246
What a delightful, emotive and colourful show, this little gem turned out to be. With a cast of three plus the puppeteers (Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton and Drew Wilson) and almost human pelicans, including the mighty Mr Percival, it was a satisfying evening well spent.
I must be one of the few not to have read the book nor seen the film, so the story was fresh for me. It is a simple tale of two men, outcasts of their own choosing and the boy who live a solitary life in the wild coastline of the rugged South Australian Coorong.
Close by is a bird sanctuary that is sometimes invaded by random shooting duck hunters. A trio of orphan pelicans is found and he birds taken away for safe keeping and the birds are raised as pets.
The masterful work of the Dead Puppet Society brought these birds cleverly to life, and injected them all with distinct personalities. Their comical antics brought heaps of warm-hearted laughter from the audience and Mr Percival, Storm Boy’s favourite, interacted neatly with his master, who was played with a delightful innocence by Conor Lowe.
The boy’s father, Hideaway Tom was played by John Batchelor and lovely job he made of the role: brusque, taciturn and a hard father figure that hid a heart of gold filled with love for his son.
Tony Briggs was the other loner, Fingerbone Bill, the Aborigine who taught Storm Boy about his country and showed him the ways of the native fauna – and told a heap of very groanworthy dad jokes! Again there was a nicely created character, gentle but with many subtle nuances. It was an excellent performance.
One day the men face the reality that the boards must be released into the wild and neither wants to be the one to tell the boy. A reluctant Fingerbone gets the job. Here’s sadness as the pelicans soar into freedom and joy when Mr Percival returns just in time for a huge storm and some hearts stopping excitement.
The trio try to ignore change, but change is inevitable. Time moves on and as always, nothing stays the same.
On top of fine acting grom the cast and direction by Sam Strong, who knew exactly what he wanted and got it, the cinematic effects of the back projection that melded perfectly with the set scenery was mind-blowing. The projections added the scenic backdrop to the live action: it was surreal the way everything fell into place. I’d give top marks for Justin Harrison’s designs, Matt Scott’s lighting and the haunting score and sound from Darren Verhagen (what mighty storms he produced).
And the set changes were so fast they made me marvel at the efficiency and talent of the back stage crew. The planets aligned for Sam Strong; it was a perfect piece of theatrical entertainment.