The only other five hour dramatic production I have seen was kabuki theatre in Japan, which was pretty heavy going. Cloudstreet is not at all heavy going. It is an absorbing and stimulating night of theatre. Whether it really needs five hours (including intervals) to tell its story is another question, but it would be unfortunate if anyone were put off this touching and vibrant play because of its length.
Cloudstreet is the extended story of two families who share a house in suburban Perth, Western Australia. The title comes from the name of the street, but nothing in the play is as simple as it may appear, and there are references in plenty to the skies and their representation of a non-material world. Indeed the play is strong on the mystical and the spiritual, which add to its mystery and enchantment.
We meet the families, the Lambs and the Pickles, as they struggle to make a living and to make sense of their worlds in the 1940s, and follow their turbulent journeys for some two decades. There are many stories within these families, and we trace the development of particular individuals as they face unexpected challenges and sorrows. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the play is to observe and to some extent share in the growth of the characters on stage.
Robert Cousins’ set (with assistance from Georgina Yabsley) is remarkably plain: vast walls of hessian bordered by unapologetic theatre lights, with a few sticks of furniture on the edges and a screen upstage in front of which a honkytonk piano occasionally appears, and upon which some of the drama is enacted out in shadow plays. The vast uncluttered stage becomes the scene of outback car sagas, kangaroo shoots, fishing trips and a mystical upriver boat journey, in addition to the home at Number 1 Cloud Street. The characters are well outfitted by Tess Schofield with clothing appropriate to their changing circumstances, while Mark Howett’s and Gavin Tempany’s lighting and sound enhance the effects of time changes and mystical dimensions. An exciting musical score by Iain Grandage brought to life by musician Matthew Hoy involves in particular clever cello work which provides varied and unexpected sound effects.
There are no weaknesses of any kind in the cast. All provide us with a committed and energetic performance, and many of them switch between diverse and contrasting roles. I particularly liked the characterisation of the two fathers, John Gaden as the devout and generous Lester Lamb and Roy Billing as the likeable rogue Sam Pickles. Kris McQuade’s lusty, alcy Dolly Pickles is beautifully captured, as is Claire Jones as her near-anorexic and exploited daughter Rose who grows magnificently as she finds love in unexpected quarters. Gillian Jones as Oriel Lamb gives a fine understated performance of a mother who cannot express her deeply intense feelings. Anna Brockway, Andrew Crabbe, John Leary, Eliza Logan, Rebecca Massey and Travis McMahon each give effective characterisation to their parts as Pickles or Lamb children or as other characters in their family drama, as does Kevin Smith as narrator. Christopher Pitman as Quick Lamb movingly portrays a troubled young man racked by guilt over a childhood incident and who goes bush to face the ghosts of the past. Most moving of all is Dan Wyllie as the disabled Fish Lamb. The relationship between the two brothers and the deep reservoirs of love between them is magnificently realised.
Bountiful credit must go to director Neil Armfield, whose myriad imaginative touches and surprises keep the audience enthralled. No doubt his assistant director Anatoly Frusin deserves a share of the credit, and Kate Champion adds to the effective team work with her choreography.
It really is a splendid show, full of resonances (such as the creepy sense of the Cloud Street house’s ghostly secrets, and spectres which only the retarded Fish can see) which captivate and have you thinking about the play long after you have seen it.
www.STAGEDIARY.com: Queensland’s Online Stage Magazine