The classic Australian novel Storm Boy by Colin Thiele has delighted readers of all ages with its homegrown tale of a boy befriending a pelican, and the 1976 movie adaptation quickly became a staple of primary school viewing. The story has received a surge in interest recently, with Geoffrey Rush starring in a new film adaptation this year in addition to, surprisingly, a video game. But Melbourne Theatre Company’s new production of Storm Boy, directed by Sam Strong, deserves just as much of your attention as any of its previous iterations.
The young Storm Boy, played by 15-year-old Conor Lowe, lives as a hermit with his father (John Batchelor) on the wild coast of South Australia, amongst sand dunes and a plethora of birdlife. After he meets fellow hermit Fingerbone Bill (Tony Briggs), Storm Boy discovers a group of baby pelicans without a mother and takes it upon himself to nurse them back to health. At its heart though, Storm Boy explores the nature of fatherhood in an emotional and touching way.
Lowe serves as a delightfully believable Storm Boy and all of the interactions with his father and Fingerbone Bill come off as truly genuine. The relationship between the three male characters is lovely to watch, with their simple heart-to-heart conversations and silly jokes effortlessly endearing.
The set beautifully complements the wild setting conjured up by the play. The wind-battered dunes of Coorong, the coastal area where the story is set, is recreated impressively. Full sandbanks, complete with tufts of grass, sit below the father and son’s small hut and the breadth of the ocean is displayed with a real, wobbling dingy amongst a sea of flat mirrors. Projectors paint the back of the stage with images of the beaches’ landscapes and the musical accompaniment is poignantly touching.
But the stand-out feature of this new production is, hands down, how the animals are brought to life. David Morton’s puppetry design for Storm Boy is impeccable, with everything from fairy penguins to pelicans of different varying sizes created out of wood. Morton uses a skeletal style that exposes the puppet’s inner workings of pulleys and wheels. The designer’s decision not to hide the inner machinery didn’t unnerve the audience at all, and gasps of delight were heard throughout the theatre when the baby pelicans first arrived on the scene, possessing the adorable ability to squeak.
This play really exhibits the effort Melbourne Theatre Company can pump into its shows, with no expense spared to concoct a visually stunning and emotionally touching production. It’s perfect viewing for children of every age — even those who are older but still children at heart.
Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Storm Boy runs until Saturday July 20 at the Southbank Theatre.