The wonder of theatre is its capacity to take its audience to a time and place far away, while the power of theatre is its capacity to stir hearts and challenge minds with the realisation that the fiction playing out on stage is not too far from the truth of life in the real world. “Cloudstreet” is such a work and Lane Cove Theatre Company’s current production unashamedly seeks to maximise both the wonder and the power of this piece.
Tim Winton’s novel, adapted for stage by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo, finds new life under the direction of Ryan Whitworth-Jones. Audiences are once again introduced to the Lamb and Pickles families who coexist in an old house of controversial origins located in Cloud Street, Perth. Amongst the characters’ experiences of war-time Australia, coming of age, family relationships, personal traumas, marriages and births, there is an undercurrent of existential questions - Who am I? What does it mean to “win” in this game of life? What makes us Australian?
To bring Winton’s characters to life and to guide the audience through two decades of post-war Australia, Whitworth-Jones has gathered a talented ensemble of actors. With minimal staging, props and costume changes, it was up to the actors to create a clear sense of time and place, and the cast achieved this beautifully with nuanced shifts in poise and movement. The collaborative strength of the cast and the innovation of the creative team was also evident through the seamless incorporation of AUSLAN into the performance.
The strength of the cast’s ensemble efforts makes it difficult to focus on specific performances but I did want to congratulate Andrew Phillips on his portrayal of Lester. Stepping into the role at short notice, Phillips captured the character and owned the stage in all his scenes. Equally captivating was Anna Desjardins whose portrayal of the broken hearted, overwhelmed mother was so convincing that I wanted to reach out and give her a hug.
As is common in modern theatre, the actors were called upon to play multiple roles and the convincing portrayals offered by the cast made it clear that the engaging characterisation was not merely a result of good casting but dramatic artistry from talented actors. This adaptability and capacity for character acting was exemplified by Nick Fitzsimmons who managed to convince me that he was the perfect choice for each of his seemingly contradictory roles.
The most powerful element of this production, for me, however, would have to be the moments of narration which tied the multiple experiences into a single, fluent narrative. The role of Narrator was played brilliantly by Mark Alexander Tyrie who claimed the stage with a captivating presence, delivering his lines in a deep and resonant voice that drew in the audience and made us believe that what he had to say was more than mere plot clarification, he was sharing words of wisdom. The significance of these moments was heightened by the carefully crafted soundscape and soft lighting which accompanied Tyrie’s scenes.These creative choices and Tyrie’s performance led the audience to feel that they were in a private conversation with a wise traveller who had much to share about the complexities of life.
“Cloudstreet” is a gem in the Australian Theatre canon and Lane Cove Theatre Company have honoured this work in a beautiful way. On the emotional fishing trip that is, “Cloudstreet”, I would say that this production captures 4 fish on its hook.