Review: Storm Boy (Barking Gecko / Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Apr 24 – May 17, 2015
Playwright: Tom Holloway (based on the book by Colin Thiele)
Director: John Sheedy
Cast: Jimi Bani, Julian Garner, Kai Lewins, Rory Potter, Phil Dean Walford, Anthony Mayor
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Christians believe that “Man is more valuable to God than animals,” and “men were created in the image of God”. Indeed, humankind often thinks of itself as separate from nature, and superior to it. We then give ourselves permission to devour and ravage the planet as though a commodity at our disposal, without its own rights and destinies. Colin Thiele’s book Storm Boy was published in 1964, and in 1976, its film version was released. Theatre productions are staged regularly to introduce new generations of children to the story, and its lessons, not only of environment conservation, but also of death, grief, and for Australian audiences, the relationship between Aboriginal and European cultures on our land.

John Sheedy’s direction of the piece is intelligent, creative and tender. It is a soulful rendition of an innocent tale that can touch the hardest of hearts. The expert level of stagecraft being incorporated is sophisticated and dynamic, with its puppetry elements a breathtaking stand out. Phil Dean Walford and Anthony Mayor are dancers who provide an indigenous omnipresence to the show, while simultaneously, and marvellously, operating the pelicans that share centre stage with its protagonist. Peter Wilson is Puppetry Director, and along with Michael Scott-Mitchell who is designer for set, costumes and the puppets, their artful vision is successfully translated to convey Thiele’s magical tale with great poignancy. Lighting Designer Damien Cooper and Sound Designer Kingsley Reeve both contribute extraordinarily inventive work that help form a fantastical experience that is truly amazing.

The lead role of Storm Boy is played by Rory Potter who impresses with an almighty focus and a deep understanding of his character’s journey. We see him completely absorbed, and believe unreservedly in all that he portrays. His father Tom is performed with subtle complexity by Julian Garner, an efficient and restrained actor who manages to reveal a world of emotion with a beautifully minimal approach. Jimi Bani is the boy’s mentor and friend, Fingerbone, an animated and passionate personality manifested by Bani’s excellent use of gesture and movement. Chemistry between the cast is natural, strong and joyful. Together, their work is consistently engaging, in a show that speaks intimately to our humanity and remarkable in its capacity to move us. Theatre can do many things, but one of its greatest accomplishments is to remind us of the enormity and largesse of the universe, beyond our selfish daily concerns. Life is meaningless when we refuse to look at the big picture, and that is exactly what Storm Boy wants us to see.