Gold standard for Storm Boy

WE’VE had more versions of Storm Boy than we’ve had popes: it’s had a book, a film and a half-dozen stage plays.

But Tom Holloway’s stage adaption for Barking Gecko and Sydney Theatre Company is the top-shelf gold standard of Colin Thiele’s tale about a boy who makes friends with a pelican called Mr Percival and a strange gent called Fingerbone Bill after his mother’s death and his father’s descent into grief.

Back for an encore performance in Perth after a run in 2013, Holloway told the Voice “when I was writing this I was actually helping my mother to her death, it was really poignant”.

“Trying to grapple with that as an adult, these things we are all trying to deal with, trying to come to terms with the loss of a parent is universal.”

“Everyone knows [Storm Boy]. Even if they don’t remember every detail about it, they know. Most people when I would talk about it their hearts would melt a bit for Mr Percival.”

Back in Shakespeare’s day when actors were faced with an elaborate scene, rather than trying to re-enact the battle of Agincourt they’d implore the audience to use their imaginations to picture the muddy French battlefield, littered by dying, arrow-pierced nobility.

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• Otis Pavlovic and Anthony Mayor in Sydney Theatre Company / Barking Gecko’s Storm Boy. Photo supplied/Brett Boardman

Likewise, the sets in this production are all the same, with childlike imagination used to evoke the differences. And rather than pretending the puppets designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell are at all real, they’re obviously lampshaded and the puppetry becomes an artform of its own.

“You’re always aware that they’re puppets and there’s no pretense there,” Holloway says. “They’re designed to look like they’ve been put together by things that washed up on the beach. They’re puppeteered by two indigenous performers who are a constant presence throughout the work.

They do some puppeteering, they bring some dance moves into it, and represent the entire world the characters are living in.”

Aimed for audiences 6 and up (the storm scenes can be a bit scary for nippers), Holloway says one challenge for writing the script was to make sure he wasn’t talking down to kids.

“The story is characters dealing with big issues, [I’m] trying to find the right language feels right for the kids to deal with.

“And as well as dealing with big issues, I know the kind of theatre we saw in schools was really shit and boring… what they’re seeing is talking down to them.

“We want to share that love and excitement for what can happen on stage to younger audiences.

“Parents have to be able to see this show too. We have to engage them so they’re not sitting there bored. It also has to be a shared experience so they can enjoy it together.”

Storm Boy plays at the State Theatre Centre July 8 to 11, tickets via http://www.ticketek.com.au

by DAVID BELL

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