CLOUDSTREET @ His Majesty’s Theatre gets 8.5/10

@ His Majesty’s Theatre

Sunday, March 8, 2020


Perth Festival has been host to many remarkable acts this year and Cloudstreet, a Black Swan State Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre co-production, was certainly no exception.

Adapted from Tim Winton’s novel by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo, and directed by Matthew Lutton, a compelling world of fiction came alive upon the stage at His Majesty’s Theatre. Lutton has brought forth the voices of previously marginalised indigenous characters, and the addition of an actor with autism, with script amendments and a cast which he feels, are “contemporary in their cultural backgrounds and diversity.”

Bestowed upon the audience was a true gift to theatre, an exemplary union between excerpts beautifully narrated and dramatic scenes performed by an ensemble of magnificent performers. Cloudstreet is a tale of two families, interwoven in existence, both their own and that of the past. Their enormous share-house in Perth is more than a mere abode – it is a space of memory, teeming with spirits of the forgotten, and an eclectic cohesion of emotion powerful enough to stain both walls and soul with varying shades of pain, sadness, trauma, love, and new life.

Greying vertical panels and weathered wooden floorboards framed the stage, alluding to poverty and the era of post-war Perth. The storyteller (known as ‘The Black Man’ in novel form) spoke to the crowd, in both native tongue and that of the coloniser, drawing together two worlds of historical and contemporary Australia.

We were swiftly introduced to the Lambs, with ocker Aussie accents thick as the red dust of the Pilbara. Mother, Oriel Lamb (Alison Whyte), Father, Lester Lamb (Greg Stone), eldest son, Quick (Keegan Joyce), second son, Fish (Benjamin Oakes), followed by three daughters, Hattie, (Ebony McGuire) Elaine (Arielle Gray), and Red (Mikayla Merks), finishing with the youngest son, Lon (Ian Michael). The Lambs are a deeply religious family on the move after their second-born endures a traumatic experience, one which affects the whole family for the duration of their lives. The performance of this scene was particularly heartbreaking, though executed immensely well by the cast.

The Pickle family arrived on the stage soon after. Down on his luck father, Sam Pickles (Bert LaBonté), alcohol-soaked Mother, Dolly Pickles (Natasha Herbert), daughter Rose (Brenna Harding), and sons Ted (Scott Sheridan) and Chub (Ian Michael). Sam doesn’t believe that luck can change, but rather that it moves, much like the Pickles themselves do, as they move to the newly inherited number one Cloudstreet.

And so follows an insight into the lives of the Lambs and Pickles, in which dire circumstances bring the two families together to the Cloudstreet house, framing the next three acts, two 90 minute sets and one 50 minute set. The story is linear, with occasional flashbacks to a haunting memory, or the inclusion of spirits still bound to the space in which they perished. Each act imbued with humour, allusions to loss as a mother, loss as a spouse, finding meaning in life, and navigating the delicate space of relationships between parents, their children, and the family we make for ourselves.

Simple props were used for each scene, allowing the performers’ talents to shine, the salience of the scenes directed towards the enthralling cast. This also made it easy to adapt the stage to transform into additional buildings, the walls of Cloudstreet becoming the partitions of a tavern and various shop fronts, snaking in and out of the set’s side creating new rooms and sub-room sets. However, the most poignant and impactful prop was the company’s use of water – a truly apt addition which not only embellished both set and performance, but served as a tangible symbol alluding to its spiritual dimension of purification, a tool of reflection, and natural resource without which life would cease.

The lighting and sound effects were masterful, with each scene as sensationally paired as the next, causing palpable fear, hope, and inspiration amongst patrons. Blackouts, flashes of colour, silence pierced by gunshots, and cries of spirits seeking cause in their binds, with the audience gasping, laughing, and crying in retaliation as their senses attuned to the emotions of the performers. A most breath-taking moment – a gun aimed at the audience. *Bang.*

This is a tale shroud in corruption, affairs of the body, affairs of the heart, but predominantly highlights the intricate relationships of families, traversing between the damage that these relationships can do, but also all the joy that they can bring. To note – it is not for children, this cannot be expressed enough – a couple of awkward sex scenes, hand-jobs, depictions of excessive alcohol consumption, jarring gunshots and screams, gambling, and allusions to physical abuse. It’s advisable to keep your under 12s at home.

Prior knowledge of Tim Winton’s novel is not required. Sure, it aids as a comparative tool, but it is by no means a prerequisite. Five and a half hours may seem excessive for a theatre production, but rest assured, it is five and a half hours well-spent. Cloudstreet on stage is a truly extraordinary and unforgettable experience.