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Review: CLOUDSTREET at Lane Cove Theatre Company

Review by Scott Whitmont

Tim Winton is arguably one of Australia’s best storytellers and Cloudstreet, doubtlessly his most beloved novel - embraced as a modern-day classic. Brilliantly adapted for the stage by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo, in the hands of the Lane Cove Theatre Company it shines brightly as a beacon to Aussie resilience and fortitude, to battling families’ hopes and heartaches.

This is the tale of the working-class Pickles and Lamb families who, over two decades from 1943, share ‘Cloudstreet’ - an expansive yet ramshackle house in suburban Perth. They share not just their abode but their financial and family struggles, joining together and often unwittingly supporting each other through trying times and tragedy.

Director Ryan Whitworth-Jones is clearly adept at bringing out the best in his cast, all of whom impress with their vulnerability and depth of character. Lane Cove Theatre Company continually demonstrates what can be achieved by a stellar ensemble that channels profound emotion and demonstrates a masterful ability to move an audience.

Anna Desjardins as the irrepressible Lamb matriarch, Oriel, is perhaps the prime example of this talent, acting with pathos and conviction. Broken hearted by rejection from her hapless son Fish, she nonetheless takes charge of the family’s survival, opening their family grocery store and constantly looking out for the welfare of her own family as well as the Pickles. Oriel is determined to control her own environment but the vicissitudes of life often get in the way. She moves for some time to a tent in the yard where at least her small world can be totally within her grasp.

Her caring husband Lester clearly has suffered failures but is equally determined to give his family the best life possible and to help his friend Sam Pickles when his gambling addiction gets the better of him. Hats off to Andrew Phillips for his sensitive portrayal of Lester, touching the hearts of the audience, having stepped into the role at very short notice before the season opened.

Erica Nelson as the wayward Dolly Pickles searching for identity, commands the stage in every scene. By her own admission, Dolly’s been “waiting all her life for everything” and in its vain pursuit, seeks solace in alcohol and other men. On the surface, the character is certainly non-sympathetic but in the hands of Nelson, transforms to be vulnerable, pitiable and ultimately redeemed.

Matthew Giles likewise gives great depth and feeling to the one-handed, flawed yet loveable Sam Pickles, ever-optimistic despite his circumstances rarely giving him reason to be.

Nick Fitzsimmons plays Dolly and Sam’s son Ted beautifully, struggling from childhood to seek his own purpose and identity. He equally succeeds in the role of Toby Raven, the boyfriend of Rose Pickles you love at first but come to detest. The character transformation is convincing and absolute. Newcomer Katie Picton as the determined, canny and headstrong Rose clearly shows she has a stellar acting career in front of her whilst Harrison Collis Oates as Quick Lamb shows an equal sensitivity and stage presence, resolved to face life with independence and purpose. Sarah Ballantyne and Eva Chen add welcome humour to the production as his sisters Hattie and Red as well as the cocky telephonists at ‘Baird’s’ department store.

The saga of the two families is woven together by a Narrator, expertly played by Mark Alexander Tyrie. His calming voice and confident performance philosophically weaves together the strands of each character's hopes, dreams and challenges, providing context while cementing rapt audience attention.

But the highlight cast mention must go to Dan Fox for his sensitive, nuanced performance as the loveable, seer-like Fish Lamb. As a deaf actor, he uses facial expressions and signs his dialogue with vocal support provided seamlessly by a team who also expressively perform Auslan interpretation throughout, adding a special, new perspective to the onstage performance. (Congratulations to Katie Eales, Samantha Tobin, Marni van Vliet and Kathy Ward for their dedication and fortitude in this task which must be exhausting). The programme notes tell us that Dan’s favourite quote is, “The deaf can do anything except hear”. He clearly is the personification of this maxim. His silent performance is moving and utterly mesmerising, adding a depth and perspective to Fish’s character that would not otherwise exist. For the audience it is a gift and a testament to the innovative vision of Ryan Whitworth-Jones.

The set design from Hailley Hunt is simple, minimal yet effective - a few curtains, rocks and ponds. She allows the cast to evoke Cloudstreet, the store, the river or the water’s edge through their nuanced performances, assisted by soft lighting and fake mist effects.

LTC’s Cloudstreet will resonate with you long after you’ve left the modest church hall that hosts it. Enright, Monjo and Winton would surely applaud how this production pays fine tribute to their work.

Image Supplied


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