Dunstan Playhouse, Fri 31 Aug.
That Eye, The Sky is based on Tim Winton’s 1968 novel of the same name. The original adaptation was developed by acclaimed actor Richard Roxburgh (Rake, Moulin Rouge) and writer Justin Monjo (Cloudstreet). This version is brought to the stage by the State Theatre Company of SA and director Kate Champion. The story’s main character is Ort Flack, a young boy in a small Australian country town, whose life had all the ingredients of an idyll: roaming free around his big country yard in a small town with space to burn, a river to swim in, and hours just to ‘muck around’ with his friend. But fate has other plans for Ort and his family and they find themselves struggling to make sense of a life that just seems to get harder and harder.
An uninvited stranger enters their lives with the promise of God and salvation and offers temporary relief but is no permanent solution. And as Ort sees the people close to him reach breaking point he finds it increasingly difficult to just enjoy his boyhood.
There is an intriguing reference in the director’s notes about Winton’s resistance to closure and it goes a long way to explaining That Eye, The Sky. There is an obvious conclusion that we all wish for, and as the dialogue proceeds, there is a blind faith that it must surely come to pass. But there is an omnipresent uncertainty here too. The light over the wonderful expansive set that is the country home is never totally clear. The muted light creates a nervous edge and is reinforced by an almost eerie soundtrack that suggests an element of menace lying beneath the idyll.
Cutting through that tension are frequent moments of humour, and some endearing affectionate images – some presented in striking silhouette. Carrying Dad around in a wheelbarrow is a wonderful metaphor for their plight. Difficult situations need practical, if imperfect, solutions.
Tim Overton as Ort is eminently believable. He has just the right amount of pre-teen awkwardness and disarming naïveté that allows him to ask the adults embarrassing questions. His sister Tegwyn, played by Kate Cheel, exudes a smouldering sexual energy that has her permanently on the outer. Their Mum, Alice (Elena Carapetis), is suitably effective in her role of simply trying to keep everything and everyone together. Christopher Pitman as the wandering evangelist, Henry Warburton, oscillates between a charismatic man of God and a nervous self-doubting fool on the edge of complete breakdown.
This is the first professional adaptation of That Eye, The Sky since 1994, and it’s visually stunning. It creates an atmosphere that is both hopeful and potentially bleak, and in keeping with Winton’s work being resistant to closure is more about how we cope with what life delivers, rather than neat endings tied up with a bow.
That Eye, The Sky continues at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times, until Sun 16 Sep.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Images courtesy of Chris Herzfeld