Black Swan State Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre present Cloudstreet by Nick Enright & Justin Monjo, adapted from Tim Winton’s much-loved novel. When I read Winton’s novel, many years ago, I knew that I’d read a very special book that I’d revisit many times. Likewise, while watching this adaptation I soon felt a deep connection that I know will stay with me. The richness of Winton’s writing is such that every read uncovers new depths, and equally, Enright’s and Monjo’s adaptation, with spectacular direction by Matthew Lutton, captures the pivotal and emotive moments from the book with a combination of amazing dramatizations and narration.
Cloudstreet follows the lives of two families, the Lambs and the Pickles, over two decades in post-war Perth. The families share a large house at No. 1 Cloud Street and we learn that the house was once a mission for First Nation’s girls. The decrepit state of the building is not only a reflection of the neglected physical structure, but of the neglected history of this place.
Director Matthew Lutton and designers Zoë Atkinson (set and costume), Paul Jackson (lighting), J. David Franzke (sound), and Elizabeth Drake (composer) have been given this rich tapestry to work with and they certainly take every opportunity to use their craft to bare the soul of this story. With walls that move as if shifting time and space, water filling the stage, sudden blackouts and new lighting states to reveal figures that suddenly appear or disappear, accompanied by penetrating sound effects, the design and direction depict an intelligent and perceptive mise-en-scène that is steeped in symbolism and metaphor.
The design is crucial to the dramatizations, that are not only glimpses into the lives of the characters, but serve to merge the present domesticity with an otherworldly presence from First Nations characters from the past, as if existing simultaneously.
The narrations follow the convention of filling in the gaps of the story and characters, yet the stroke of genius, whether by director Lutton or by Enright and Monjo, is having the actors switch from playing the characters, to narrating about themselves. Instead of other characters taking over those narrations, there is something powerful about becoming immersed in the scene, watching the character, to then have him/her turn to the audience and comment on his/her feelings, decisions, actions in the third person. This element of dramaturgy is particularly poignant and effective in an early scene between father and daughter Sam and Rose Pickles (Bert LaBonté and Brenna Harding). This scene shifts from portraying the dysfunctional relationship, to Rose expressing, in the third person, her anger and unhappiness due to the neglect of her parents; as if stepping outside of herself, commenting on her unfolding life that seems out of her control.
Performances by Arielle Gray, Keegan Joyce, Mikayla Merks, Ian Michael, Benjamin Oakes, and Scott Sheridan are remarkable and beautifully defined. Other performances are outstanding: Bert LaBonté as Sam Pickles and Natasha Herbert as Dolly Pickles each portray the descent into selfishness and depravity that addiction brings; while Greg Stone as Lester Lamb and Alison Whyte as Oriel Lamb are brilliant as the self-effacing and resilient parents who prove to be resourceful and hard-working in the face of abject poverty. Brenna Harding as Rose Pickles has perhaps the most transformational role, from scrawny kid, whose love of books and deep sensitivity to her surroundings separates her from the other members of her family. As Rose transforms into a woman, nicely assisted by Atkinson’s costume and hair designs, I was reminded of the similarities with the character Jane Eyre, perhaps because Rose is reading the book earlier in the play. Though, it is Harding’s performance that painfully captures the damaged little girl inside. Ebony McGuire’s vocal clarity and physical presence as Hattie Lamb is dynamic and playful while her performances in the many ensemble roles seems effortlessly modulated. There is a unique quality to McGuire’s performance that is mesmerising.
Cloudstreet is a spectacular theatrical event that needs to be experienced. This production is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in this Australian classic about love, forgiveness and redemption.
Cloudstreet is part of Perth Festival and runs until Sunday 15 March at His Majesty’s Theatre, Hay Street, Perth. Bookings and further information: https://bsstc.com.au/plays/cloudstreet
Part 1 – 80mins
Dinner Interval – 80mins
Parts 2 – 90mins
Interval – 20mins
Part 3 – 55mins
Total – 5 hours 25 minutes
Contains some adult material, coarse language, herbal cigarettes, gunshots and dynamic sound.
Photo credit Philip Gostelow