Wednesday, 30 June 1999

Cloudstreet, 30 June 1999

adapted by Nick Enright & Justin Monjo from Tim Winton's book
Company B, Black Swan, Playbox , MTC,
Victorian Arts Centre until August 1, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Cloudstreet is the perfect title for this play: it has its feet on the earth and its head in some other misty world.

This adaptation (Nick Enright, Justin Monjo) has the "magic Australianism" of Tim Winton's novel pared down to four hours. Favourite characters leap off the page onto a bare stage speaking Winton's witty 1940's Aussie lingo. Only occasional lines of dialogue slip into obscure philosophising.

The production is a momentous collaboration between six organisations, the originators being Company B (Sydney) and Black Swan (Perth). It sold out at both Sydney and Perth Festivals in1998.

Neil Armfield's direction is exceptional, miraculously conjuring the huge, rambling house at No. One Cloud Street, Perth and its two families. We see the hard-drinking, smoking, gambling Pickles who own it and their tenants, the Lambs, driven by the Christian work ethic.

Fish Lamb (Daniel Wyllie) is the spine, or rather, the soul of the story. At age nine, he was saved from drowning - but "not all of Fish Lamb came back."  He is no longer the smart, cheeky Fish everybody loved. He yearns for the peace of the water which spat him back, has uncanny foresight and sees the dead.

Armfield has assembled a versatile and skilful ensemble. John Gaden as Lester Lamb is sweet and lovable. As his tartar wife, Judi Farr is tormented and driven by grief. Max Cullen captures the cheerful incompetence of Sam Pickles who chases the "Shifty Shadder", Lady Luck. Kris McQuade, as his gorgeous, slatternly wife, Dolly, is a tragic shell of a lusty woman.

Wyllie is poignant and sustained as the idiot savant, Fish. Christopher Pitman is moving as his guilt-ridden brother, Quick, who seeks to eliminate evil, and Claire Jones as the quick-witted Rose, is magnetic.

Robert Cousins sparse set design is a gift. The original production was staged in a warehouse but the rambling openness is replicated in the canvas walls, shadow screens, sand and wood flooring. Composer, Iain Grandage plays evocative piano and cello live and the lighting by Mark Howett is magical.

Armfield has created a visionary, deceptively simple show that has complexity, detail, intelligence and joy. Don't be put off by the length. You get to eat and you might even get a very dramatic fire evacuation, as we did on opening night.

By Kate Herbert

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