Stage Stormboy a triumph

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A life-sized puppet pelican lay dead and tears trickled down my cheeks, the little boy in front of me was comforted by his mum and muted sniffles were heard all around.

If you’re one of the lucky people to score a ticket to Stormboy, take tissues. If you haven’t bought a ticket yet do what you can to get one, as this is a play not to be missed.

Arriving at the state theatre for the opening, and discovering a horde of children, hubby and I grumped bad-naturedly under our breath about noisy kids perhaps spoiling the show. Hrrumph.

But from the minute it started—with an almighty crash of thunder and flashes of lightning—the ankle-biters were, like everyone else, silent and spellbound throughout.

The stage show marks the 50th anniversary of Colin Thiele’s classic novel, a mainstay in school libraries for much of its its half-century. Barking Gecko Theatre director John Sheedy has more than stepped up to the mark in this truly satisfying interpretation to one of Australia’s most loved books. Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set resembles the skeleton of a whale, a humped “sand dune” on which much of the action takes place.

The door to the beach shack home of Stormboy and his dad, Hideaway Tom (Peter O’Brien) is at its centre.

The night the Voice was there Joshua Challenor played the boy, a role he shares with another 12-year-old, Rory Potter.

Challenor was superb, the naturalness he brought to the role and his ability to make the audience believe the puppets were alive, shining through.

As Sheedy told the Voice last week, the young actor is “cheeky, charming, vulnerable. Everything Stormboy should be”.

Trevor Jamieson is perfect as Fingerbone Bill, who befriends Stormboy and, ultimately, grumpy, grieving Tom, hiding from the world—and his son—following the death of his wife.

There’s plenty of humour in the play, including some corny jokes from Fingerbone that appeal to the kids.

The pelican puppets had the audience hooting with laughter as they were skillfully and playfully,manipulated around the stage by indigenous dancers Michael Smith and Shaka Cook (a beautiful touch).

A game of fetch, with Stormboy tossing a stick for Mr Percival to catch in his beak is a delight.

And when the three birds the young boy rescues and hand-rears are released into the wild, the dancers ensure it’s poetry in motion as the pelicans’ wing open and the birds soar up and over the dunes.

Stormboy’s message of protecting Australia’s wilderness, in this case South Australia’s Coorong, and all the creatures in it, is even more important today, than when the book was written in 1963.

It’s on at the Heath Ledger Centre at the State Theatre until October 5. And with no intermission the 80-minute long play isn’t a stretch for youngsters. Tickets at Ticketek.

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