August 30, 2018

Hallelujah to a compelling revival

That Eye, The Sky
A stage adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel
by Justin Monjo and Richard Roxburgh.
State Theatre Company South Australia.
Dunstan Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
August 28. Tickets: $32- $67. Bookings 131 246 or online
Duration: 100 minutes (no interval)
Until September 16.

Tim Winton wrote That Eye, the Sky when he was 25, describing it as the novel where his work turned a corner. In it he embraced a vigorous vernacular, and explored layers of belief, mysticism and the outer perimeters of human hope. His captivating central character, Ort (short for Morton) is at upper level primary school. He is eccentric, other-worldly, but also blithely candid, intuitive, and unswervingly honest.

When his father Sam, is massively injured in a car accident, Ort (with his emotionally scarred and bitter sister, Tegwyn) helps their mother, Alice, tend to their paralysed and speechless father with both loving patience and a darkening pall of despair. Into this besieged and stricken family comes Henry Warburton, like a character from a Flannery O’Connor novel. He is a vagrant preacher, an acid–fried shaman and a faith healer with no mojo.

In State Theatre Company’s compelling revival of Justin Monjo and Richard Roxburgh’s 1994 adaptation, director Kate Champion has brought together a production that crackles with Winton’s text and enriches the characters, each one faced with challenges seemingly greater than their resources and endurance.

Geoff Cobham’s décor and lighting (assisted by Wendy Todd) is his last project as resident at State – and he brings the best of his signatures. The small town homestead set is detailed with wooden platforms and stacks of car tires, a creek at the edge of the stage, and a huge crumpled scrim of cloud above. The whole back wall is a canvas for saturated reds and blues, while intense sidelights create a photorealist edge, and the firmament is periodically lit up for close encounters of the numinous kind.

Alan John’s splendidly-judged music (like Andrew Howard’s soundscape) is a mix of sustained ambient exhalations and lyrical wind and reed consorts, interspersed with gospel refrains and humming choruses.

Champion has brought together an excellent cast. Bill Allert as Sam, the immobilised pieta, Elena Carapetis as his shattered wife Alice, Rory Walker as the vile neighbour, Mr Cherry, Michelle Nightingale, his wife, and Ezra Juanta as his son, Ort’s erstwhile friend, Fat – all bring precision and feeling to the story.

Kate Cheel sustains the pain in Tegwyn, too sceptical to accept faith, but longing for its nourishment, and Christopher Pitman expertly navigates the quirks and contradictions of Henry. But special mention belongs to Tim Overton’s outstanding portrayal of Ort. He is the spiritual core of the story, the one who never takes his eye off that sky.

“Hallelujah to a compelling revival”, The Australian, August 30, 2018, p.14.

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