Storm Boy is for children and for the child in every adult. Colin Thiele’s classic tale of loss sees three male outsiders – Storm Boy (played alternatively by Joshua Challenor and Rory Potter), his dad Hideaway Tom (Peter O’Brien), and his friend Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) – emotionally cut adrift on an isolated stretch of coast.
Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell’s driftwood wave set, and an effectively sparse light and sound designscape, allow this production to create a few genuinely cinematic moments invoking the eye to zoom across the stage and frame the action close-up. The climax is one such moment. Quite suddenly, the stage is transformed and a storm is summoned via a smoke machine giving way to billowing downward gusts of wind and strobe lights. The final scene where the puppeteers for Storm Boy’s beloved pelicans – Mr Ponder, Mr Pride and Mr Percival – appear backlit and God-like at the peak of the driftwood wave independent of their bird props, is another moment mimicking a certain filmic grandiosity.
Puppets seem to be Sydney Theatre’s device of the moment. Here, it works. At one juncture, Mr Percival seemed to actually lift off into flight and I still have no idea how. Leaping beyond the pantomime potential of this set-up is Storm Boy’s main feat; through the simplicity of production, the play’s moral message comes through loud and clear. In order to come to terms with grief in a wild, ancient country, one needs to accept that change can be relentless and glacial.
Storm Boy is as childlike, heartwarming and compassionate as you’d expect. Not earth-shattering, but well executed for its target audience: school students, and those who grew up with the film and the book and want a trip down nostalgia lane. Viewers who are neither of those and unaccustomed to the sometimes stylised strictures of traditional stageplays will see the tragedy for what it is and have a more difficult time surrendering to this sweet story.
BY LAUREN CARROLL HARRIS