It’s the opening night of That Eye, The Sky, and the foyer of Dunstan Playhouse is buzzing. The production, presented by SA’s State Theatre Company, is an adaptation of one of Aussie iconic Tim Winton’s earliest works, and has been keenly anticipated. The audience is made up of the theatrical elite but try as we might we can’t catch a glimpse of Tim himself. Winton was all of twenty-five years old when he penned the coming of age drama and has given the stage adaptation his full support. Justin Monjo and Richard Roxburgh are the word-gods behind the script, and renowned physical theatre mastermind Kate Champion takes the directorial helm.
A hush settles over the crowd, and we are introduced to our youthful hero, Morton ‘Ort’ Flack (Tim Overton), a twelve-year-old boy with a unique world-view, trying to make sense of life in a small WA country town. It’s not long before Ort’s father (Bill Allert) is seriously injured in a car accident, and a mysterious stranger arrives with an evangelical message. The family must make their way through fractured relationships, religion, high school, and the fluidity of humanity. Ort’s sister Tegwyn, played with brash precision by Kate Cheel, and his mother Alice, played by the always excellent Elena Carapetis, navigate the calamity of a mother-daughter relationship, touching on the nuances of growing up, and growing apart.
Champion’s direction is highly visual, blending beautiful choreography with seemingly organic moments and highlighting a family in the eye of chaos, teetering on the edge of destruction.
The production is effervescent, and the characters are heartwarming and intrinsically human. The humour is dark and raw, and the whole thing feels unequivocally and lovingly Australian. Particular credit goes to Geoff Cobham’s simple yet elegant set design, which is gorgeously lit throughout the show. The shallow pool of water at the forefront of the set is a brilliant idea, effectively blurring the lines between audience and actor, gently drawing us into Ort’s world.
Winton says Ort was inspired by his childhood, specifically his father’s involvement in a car accident, and the influence of this on his journey from childhood to adulthood. Thus it seems fitting that is the coming of age journey that is the stand out of this production. Whilst the tale stays true to Winton’s famous disregard for closure, we are left with a sense of hope, a little light in the dark that things just might be okay.
Whilst the beginning is slightly slow, if you’re looking for an honest, rather cathartic meditation on life, loss, and redemption, do yourself a favour and head to the Dunstan Playhouse ASAP.
That Eye, The Sky runs until September 16 at the Dunstan Playhouse. Tickets are available now.