Review: Storm Boy (Queensland Theatre)

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Conor Lowe as Storm Boy, photographed by Jeff Busby.

A co-production between Queensland Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company in association with Dead Puppet Society, Storm Boy brings Colin Thiele’s classic Australian coming-of-age novel to the stage in a poignant and awe-inspiring production that will thrill audiences young and old.

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Photographed by Jeff Busby.

Directed by Sam Strong and adapted for the stage by Tom Holloway, Queensland Theatre’s Storm Boy transports audiences to the wide, wild expanses of the Coorong in South Australia where young Storm Boy, on the cusp of adolescence, lives with his reclusive father. Combing the beaches for useful debris after a storm, Storm Boy discovers new friends that shepherd him beyond boyhood over the summer – the wise-cracking Fingerbone Bill, and three orphaned pelicans that teach Storm Boy hard lessons of love, loss, and letting go. The play also touches on male relationships, environmentalism, and the search for meaning that we all face as we grow and learn.

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Mr Percival, Storm Boy (Conor Lowe) and Fingerbone Bill (Tony Briggs). Photographed by Jeff Busby.

“This is one of those really unique works that can speak across generations and across time,” said director Sam Strong. “There are relatively few works that can speak with equal poignancy to adults and to children; to the children in adults, and to the adults in children. I think Storm Boy is one of those works.”

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John Batchelor, Tony Briggs and Conor Lowe in Storm Boy. Photographed by Jeff Busby.

Fifteen-year-old Conor Lowe was immediately and consistently endearing as the sweet, excitable, big-hearted Storm Boy. Similarly, Tony Briggs instantly ingratiated himself with the audience through his cheesy jokes and happy-go-lucky chatter as Fingerbone Bill, but also displayed depth and versatility in his more serious conversations with Storm Boy. John Batchelor, initially gruff and surly as Hideaway Tom, was increasingly lovable as the play progressed, and as his relationships with his son and Fingerbone Bill evolved.

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Conor Lowe with puppeteers Drew Wilson, Ellen Bailey, and Emily Burton. Photographed by Jeff Busby.

Anna Cordingley has once again turned the landscape into a character in its own right with her clever and striking set design. Lighting design by Matt Scott, composition and sound design by Darrin Verhagen, and projection designs by Justin Harrison including stunning aerial and time-lapse footage of the Coorong combined seamlessly with the puppetry to fully transport the audience. The absolute attention to detail in every aspect of this production is what really took it to the next level.

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John Batchelor, Conor Lowe, and Emily Burton in Storm Boy. Photographed by Jeff Busby.

Puppet design by David Morton, Creative Director of Dead Puppet Society and Associate Director of Storm Boy, was delightfully intricate, with each hero pelican created from over 1200 hand-drawn pieces. These beautifully detailed contraptions moved in a surprisingly organic way, but allowed for more emotion, personality, and rich relationship-building with the actors than a real or almost-real looking creature could achieve. The puppeteers gave many of these creatures wordless voices as well as physical life, which added further comedy and emotion to each scene and their interactions with the human characters.

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Conor Lowe as Storm Boy. Photographed by Jeff Busby.

“We can get adults to believe more strongly in the illusion if we don’t try to hide at all what we’re doing,” said Morton. “We try and always keep the puppets looking mechanical, with obvious mechanisms and obvious performers, then lean in to the strength of the manipulation and the story to allow it to transcend. The puppet at no point pretends to be a pelican, and so it becomes a pelican in the minds of the audience.”

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Photographed by Jeff Busby.

The puppets were expertly managed by Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton, and Drew Wilson, particularly in the way that eye line was used to direct audience attention and lend credence to the illusion, and the ways in which their movements were synchronised with the projections. In addition to the adult pelicans, the actors shared the stage with puppets of the pelican chicks, clumsy fairy penguins, mackerel, crayfish, and a tiger snake. Burton’s final interaction as Mr Percival’s puppeteer broke hearts all over the theatre, as she stroked Lowe’s hair softly in comfort and left the stage.

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Conor Lowe as Storm Boy. Photographed by Jeff Busby.

Storm Boy is a heart-warming, innovative, and visually stunning theatre experience that will delight and comfort – a story and script that is quintessentially Australian, but which explores the universal experiences of growing up and letting go with tenderness and beautiful rawness.

Storm Boy will play at QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre from 29 July – 17 August. For ticketing and further information, visit Queensland Theatre’s website.

  • Auslan Interpreted performance Mon 5 Aug 2019, 6.30pm
  • Audio Described performance Thu 15 Aug 2019, 7.30pm + Sat 17 Aug 2019, 2pm
  • Relaxed Performance Sat 10 Aug 2019, 2pm

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