Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
The epic Lizzie Loveridge saw once and wished she could see again, is making a brief appearance at the Harvey Theater in Brooklyn as part of the Australian New Wave Festival (from 10/02/01-10/06/01). While I was unable to take Lizzie's advice to see Cloudstreet until the final performance, but I hope other New Yorkers took advantage to experience this production. Director Neil Armfield told London audience on September 11th that the events of that day would not affect Company B Belvoir's taking the play to BAM in New York and the Kennedy Center in DC, rightly expressing the belief that its life-giving quality and themes of togetherness and sense of place and belonging would resonate more strongly than ever with American audiences. Cloudstreet has played to a full house all week and the five hour production (including a 20-minute intermission and a 45-minute dinner break during which the audience was allowed to picnic in their seats) ended to numerous thunderous rounds of applause.
While I generally am not enamored of plays calling for grown-up actors to play children, the actors called upon to do so here did it so well that all my usual reservations vanished. If there were times when a little less of Dan Wyllie as Fish Lamb, the Lamb's brightest child transformed into a perpetual child, would have helped to cut down on some of the slow spots, these moments were offset by the imaginative staging and the sense of EVENT surrounding so many BAM productions and this one in particular. From re-reading Lizzie's review, all the physical elements she found so enchanting have been transferred to the stage of the Harvey Theater. With the aisles put to good use, even more lucky aisle sitters nabbed those free cups of ice cream distributed by the entrepreneurial Lamb daughters. Unfortunately, the Harvey sound system did little to help American ears acclimate themselves to the thick Australian accents.
The ensemble of 14 actors continue to play their forty parts with amazing versatility and depth. I was particularly smitten with the boozy-voiced Kris McQuade whose Dolly Pickle believably evolves into something more than a slatternly, neglectful wife and mother. She also gets some of the best lines, like her description of the house shared by her family with the Lambs: "It's like a house that had a stroke and was left paralyzed on one side." It would be wonderful to have her re-visit America as one of Tennesse Williams' heroines.
Even without the special resonance of the Australian visit to our shores at this particular time, Cloudstreet, underscores the similarities between our countries. Its poetic simplicity and the superb performances make mention of the too-overdone patches seem like inconsequential quibbles. If you missed the play in London and in Brooklyn, there's still DC to catch up with it. -- Elyse Sommer
The Original Review by Lizzie Loveridge
It's not us and them anymore. There's no them. It. . . s us and us and us. We all join up in then end.
--- Quick Lamb
Cloudstreet which comes to London from Sydney, Australia is a theatrical treat. Those who might dismiss Australian culture as fledgling, are wrong. We have read authors like Peter Carey, seen excellent films with Australian pedigrees and exciting actors such as Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett, both of whom cut their stage teeth at Company B Sydney, the producers of Cloudstreet. I have not been so enchanted in the theatre for some time as I was by this five hour family saga of people who live on the edge of the world. Cloudstreet is tender, affecting, lyrical and poetic. Here are essentially ordinary people about whom Tim Winton has written extraordinary stories which have the ring of those fond, evocative anecdotes that we pass on to our children about our parents and grandparents.
Dan Wyllie as Fish Lamb and Christopher Pitman as Quick Lamb
(Photo: Michael Mayhew)
The play centers on
two families, the Pickles and the Lambs. Both families suffer a separate tragedy and come to live together in a large house, at No. 1 Cloudstreet, Perth in Western Australia. The Pickles, who have inherited the house, but are not allowed to sell it for 20 years, lurch from crisis to crisis caused by Sam Pickles' (Roy Billing) gambling and Dolly Pickles (Kris McQuade) drinking and loose living. Their tenants, the Lambs, prosper through industry and clean living. Their rent which helps out the struggling Pickles, is paid up for years ahead.
We follow the two families through the 1940s and 50s in Perth "the most isolated country town in the world trying to be a city."
The house at No. 1 Cloudstreet is a metaphor for Australia as a whole and the two families represent those who are seeking somewhere to belong. . . , somewhere to call home.
Near the end of the play, Oriel (Gillian Jones) says "We are half way to belonging" and they decide to sing a song. Australian songs are all Irish they say, so Dolly chooses to sing in her contralto voice, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot coming for to carry me home."
Many of Tim Winton's poetic words are preserved either in the dialogue or in narrative passages from Christopher Pitman, Claire Jones and Wayne Blair. There is graphic language from Dolly Pickles, "Thank you Lady Luck, you rotten slut" to the elegiac descriptive "the house was boarded up and held its breath" to the straight forward joke "It's going to sound like a counter lunch - Lamb and Pickles."
Neil Armfield has translated scenes for the stage with great skill and much humour. Within minutes of the opening we are engrossed in a near drowning, staged with the figure of Fish Lamb (Dan Wyllie), a lively and mischievous eight year old, writhing on a rope suspended above the stage, struggling to get free from under a fishing net. He is pulled unconscious from the water and his mother repeatedly pounds his chest to revive him. The relief that he is alive is tainted when it is realised he has suffered brain damage.
The director's strong physical interpretation will leave you with many visual images: the synchronised plug pulling and connecting by the telephonists at a switchboard, the joyful distribution of Lester Lamb's (John Gaden) ice cream to the edges of the audience by the Lamb girls, women splashing water from metal pails and Fish flying overhead in a rowing boat in Quick's vision. Many scenes are described and played in shadow behind the canvas screen so that images are constantly reinforcing the words.
Matthew Hoy accompanies the three acts with well-judged and subtle incidental music, on piano, cello and violin. The set is simple, sand and plain wooden flooring with a canvas backdrop, a wooden boat, a table and chairs but the lighting is atmospheric and the shadow play clever. The staging is as imaginative, witty and creative and overall gives Cloudstreet a sense of belonging to an age where the family was the most important identifier of values.
The performances are incredible. In the Pickle family we have husky-voiced, man eating Dolly Pickles (Kris McQuade), the feckless but affable Sam (Roy Billing), their studious daughter Rose (Claire Jones) who takes up with the posing, Pommie (British) accented, journalist Toby Raven (Travis McMahon) and their son Ted (Travis McMahon) who skips Perth leaving behind a pregnant girl . Then there are the Lambs: the upright and steadfast father, Lester Lamb (John Gaden), the often severe and complicated mother, Oriel (Gillian Jones) and their six children, The cast of 15 play many roles,with a change of voice, posture and costume serving as sufficient disguises for them to re-enter as fresh characters.
As I write, I feel I would like to see Cloudstreet again though I may settle for reading Tim Winton's novel. Cloudstreet will be on at BAM Harvey Theatre, New York October 2nd to 7th 2001 and at the Eisenhower Theatre in Washington October 12th through 14th 2001. My advice to the residents of New York and DC is to try to see this beautiful play.
Adapted by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo
From the novel by Tim Winton
Directed by Neil Armfield
With: Roy Billing, Wayne Blair, Andrew Crabbe, Marta Dusseldorp, John Gaden, Claire Jones, Gillian Jones, John Leary, Eliza Logan, Rebecca Massey, Travis McMahon, Kris McQuade, Christopher Pitman, Dan Wyllie.
Set Design: Robert Cousins
Costume Design: Tess Scholfield
Lighting Design: Mark Howett
Sound: Gavin Tempany
Music: Iain Grandage
Choreographer: Kate Champion
Running time: Five hours with a 45 minute meal break after Act One and a another interval between Acts Two and Three
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 20th September 2001
A Company B Belvoir and Black Swan Theatre (Australia) Production
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on the 6th September 2001 performance at the Olivier Theatre, Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1