State Theatre Company. Dunstan Playhouse. 31 Aug 2018
Ort is up his tree. In Geoff Cobham stage imagery, the tree is an austere Juliet balcony. Beside and below it, Ort’s family is illuminated behind a magical screen, blurred and dwarfed in their tiny lives.
It is a magnificent opening to Tim Winton’s That Eye, The Sky, the story which preceded the famous Australian family epic, Cloudstreet.
Here, in this State Theatre Company production, it has been adapted by Justin Monjo and Richard Roxburgh and directed by Kate Champion.
Ort introduces his family and tells of his love for his chook, Errol, and how he likes to look at the sky wherein he sees a great eye.
Ort is a teen, simple-minded following a brain injury.
The veil across the stage rises to fold into a sheltering cloud which hangs over the family. Again, a beautiful piece of theatre effect.
And there is the family marooned in a chaos of Australian desolation, their home symbolised by a series of crude tiered platforms surrounded by old tyres and assorted cast-offs. As if poverty and a granny helpless with dementia is not enough, Ort’s beloved dad has just been in an accident and is in a quasi-vegetative stage. Mum, sister Tegwyn and Ort carry him about and try to include him in family life, their hope that he will recover his faculties slowly ebbing. Their spiteful neighbours, the Cherries, are no help. When the derelict evangelist Henry volunteers his services, they are in no position to choose. And thus a strange new chemistry evolves and even a glimmer of hope for redemption from this grim life of joyless confinement.
The play is immensely sad and Champion’s evocation of its pathos elicits tears among audience members.
There is a creek beside the house. Cobham’s design has created a shallow pool across the front of the stage wherein the family swims, paddles, floats on tyres and old car parts and which also absolutely brilliantly mirrors action taking place beyond it. Another strike of lighting genius.
The cast works effectively on their characterisations. Elena Carapetis gives yet another superb portrayal of the light and dark of a complex soul as she plays the mother, Alice, and Tim Overton captures agonisingly the endearing innocence of broken Ort. Kate Cheel tears at the heart in her depiction of Tegwyn, the beautiful teenager with a curdled future. Bill Allert remains slack-jawed and blank-eyed, passive to perfection as the brain-dead dad while Christopher Pitman twitches and rants and takes the weird evangelist to vigorously disturbing heights. The supporting cast, Rory Walker, Michelle Nightingale and Ezra Juanta, are strong, each adding to the poignancy of the human predicament in this Winton world. Even the chook is good, played with immense self-control by a pale pullet.
The play is over-long, perhaps bleeding the bleeding heart a drop too many. However, this production is Geoff Cobham’s triumph of lighting and design. The sprawling set screams of despair. The lighting complements the lows and sorrows and disappointments, the shimmering promises of faith, the mystical beauty of the sky. There are some moments of extraordinary beauty and spectacle in what is a huge portrayal of a small world.
When: 28 Aug to 16 Sep
Where: Dunstan Playhouse