Melbourne Theatre Company: Storm Boy – Theatre Review

Storm Boy is a beloved Australian children’s tale about a boy and his pelican. While the story originated as a children’s book by Colin Thiele in 1964, this wonderous story has had many adaptations; the 1976 film that focuses more on Mike’s friendship with Aboriginal man Fingerbone Bill, the 2019 film starring Geoffrey Rush which focuses more on an elderly Mike who fights for conservation, and there’s even a 2018 video game of Storm Boy by Blowfish Studios that plays out like an interactive novel. Considering the many versions of this beautiful tale, it’s no surprise that the story of Storm Boy has made its way to the stage.

Adapted for the stage by Tom Holloway and directed by Sam Strong, this Melbourne Theatre Company co-production with Queensland Theatre in association with Dead Puppet Society tells Storm Boy’s story in a way that no other adaptation has done before.

In this production of Storm Boy, the atmosphere of South Australia’s Coorong is recreated with beautiful photos and videos of the sanctuary by projection, theatrical smoke effects, dynamic sound and simple but effective changing set designs. Starring John Batchelor as Hideaway Tom, Tony Briggs as Fingerbone Bill and Conor Lowe in the titular role as Storm Boy/Mike, these three wonderful actors recreate the story that we Australians have grown to know and love in a more relaxed, fun and lighthearted setting that would appeal to both adults and children alike. And while these three talented individuals are equally impressive, particularly Conor Lowe’s portrayal of the young innocent boy who yearns for a connection and love, the true heroes of this stage production are the pelicans.

Recreated as puppets, the puppeteers of Dead Puppet Society; Drew Wilson, Ellen Bailey and Emily Burton cleverly convey so much personality and emotion into these pelican puppets with their voices and movements, I daresay it is almost magical. Whether it be flying over the first few rows of the audience or breaking the fourth wall to drop a fish in the front row, you can’t help but admire in awe. It would be hard to find an audience member not laughing or beaming whenever the pelican puppets would take the stage. While watching this incredible production, I happily forgot to look at the puppeteers as I was too captivated by the puppets themselves. It’s as if the pelicans were really moving on their own.

Not only does this theatrical presentation of Storm Boy know how to recreate the scene with clever use of visuals and sound, but it also makes excellent use of darkness and silence. It’s been a long time since I have seen a show make use of the power of silence. Too many have I seen of shows that feel the need to fill a room with unnecessary dialogue, but with Storm Boy, we aren’t overwhelmed by content. Instead, we are inspired to think and feel, which in turn helps us connect with characters while also setting up the serene environment of what Coorong National Park in South Australia would really be like; peaceful – well mostly, apart from the occasional storm.

I have loved every version of Storm Boy and Melbourne Theatre Company’s Storm Boy is no exception. While other adaptations focus on Storm Boy’s relationship with Fingerbone Bill, or a grown Storm Boy’s battle for conservation of Coorong National Park, this stage production focuses more on Storm Boy’s relationship with his father which I loved and moved me tears. MTC’s Storm Boy tells of family, friendship, love, loss, heartache and the legacy of a bird who will never really die. Witnessing this classic Australian tale live on stage is truly a must. I am so grateful to have seen this impressive production. Please do yourself a favour and go see this brilliant piece of theatre. You won’t regret it.

Storm Boy is currently playing at The Sumner, Southbank Theatre in Melbourne until July 20th, 2019.
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Photography by Jeff Bubsy.

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