Review: That Eye, The Sky (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 15 – Apr 16, 2016
Playwrights: Richard Roxburgh, Justin Monjo (adapted from the novel by Tim Winton)
Director: David Burrowes
Cast: Alex Bryant-Smith, Joel Horwood, Shaun Martindale, Jenae O’Connor, Romney Stanton, Simon Thomson, Emma Wright
Photography © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Religion is a subject that art can always rely on to evoke and provoke, especially in these modern times when scarcely any two persons are able to find complete agreement about who, what or how it is that we are being looked over, or indeed that supreme beings exist at all who we have to be answerable to. We meet the 13 year-old boy Ort just as his young mind begins to understand abstract concepts about faith. He finds God, but the relationship is a rocky one, and salvation continues to elude him.

That Eye, The Sky is a tender story about a sensitive child in challenging circumstances, but David Burrowes’ direction does not deliver an emotionally charged experience capitalising on our susceptibility to impassioned empathising of the pure or the weak. His show is polished and quiet, a feast for the senses, but it keeps us at a distant position of observation, never giving us the opportunity to delve into the romance of the piece. The work is consistently cerebral, which feels somewhat contradictory to the issues being explored, but all facets of production are impressively executed. The design team does exceptional work, especially Benjamin Brockman on lights, and the duo of Hugo Smart and Dean Barry Revell on sound and music, with brilliantly conceived flourishes that play much more than a subsidiary role to the actors on stage. Set design by Tom Bannerman and costumes by Alana Canceri create a sophisticated and powerful visual impact in spite of their understated approach.

The actors are equally strong, with Joel Horwood’s portrayal of Ort remarkable for its deceptive ease. Horwood is a grown, and very tall, man who makes us believe unreservedly in the innocent and prepubescent being he brings to the stage. The wide-eyed wonder he performs seems effortlessly achieved and every youthful quirk of voice and gesture is convincing and delightful. His family is played by Romney Stanton and Emma Wright, both resplendent with sensitivity, nuance and psychological accuracy. Their work is restrained and elegant, but surprisingly memorable. Shaun Martindale plays the pivotal role of Henry with an energetic spontaneity. He brings a sense of danger to the show, and although not always sufficiently effective at key plot moments, there is a quality of enigma in his work that adds to the complexity of what is being said.

We should not expect every work of theatre to produce the same emotional effects. Art can do much more than to speak to one’s feelings, and on this occasion, we discover the sensation of being moved without having to respond with sentimentality. The production’s style is perhaps at odds with the very substance of its story that seem to call for a more gushy approach, but what it does create is a sensual landscape that we can watch in admiration. Beauty is sublime, but it will not always move you how you wish.