Puppetry of the pelican

Storm Boy (Sydney Theatre Company)

Wharf 1

August 9 – September 8

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Colin Thiele’s “Storm Boy” is part of Australian literary and cinematic folklore so it is fitting to see it being celebrated on stage to honour the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication.

Sydney Theatre Company’s production tells the poignant story of Storm Boy and his reclusive father, Hideaway Tom, whose lives are altered when Storm Boy befriends aboriginal Fingerbone Bill and adopts a family of orphaned pelicans, his favourite being Mr Percival. This is where the show’s innovative puppeteering first enthrals as the birds cause havoc in their new beach hut hermitage home. The three pelicans, the creation of Peter Wilson (Director of Puppetry for “King Kong”), are engaging in their intricacy, with mechanisms to make their wings move and Mr Percival’s ability to move his head in reaction and even catch a stick.

At only 75 minutes in length, the show is perfectly positioned to maintain the attention of a youth audience. Though children were evidently engaged by the puppeteering and comedy in the initial acts, as it progresses the show does not shy away from the story’s tragedy or condescend to younger audience members. Rather, the production embraces the loss at the heart of the achingly sad children’s classic about a motherless boy’s friendship with an orphaned pelican and it is wonderful to see how true the show is to its earlier incarnations. Indeed, this shared nostalgic familiarity was clear, apparent in the abundance of adult audience tears, amongst the wonder on the faces of the youngsters being introduced to this simple, beautiful tale.

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