The Turning | Perth Theatre Company

The Turning | Perth Theatre CompanyAt the end of The Turning, I was able to turn to my English friend and say; “this is great Australian theatre,” and have her agree. Directed by Steve Jodrell, it has the magic to draw the audience into the story. Using theatre, film and sound this play creates a realistic, distinctly Australian, brutal portrayal of human life.

As part of Perth Theatre Company’s 2008 season, The Turning is based on Tim Winton’s book of the same name, a collection of 17 short stories that revolve around the fictional town of Angelus. Here, in a re-imaging by Bill McCluskey, 12 of the stories have been reworked into a play about the Lang family. Vic Lang, who we see both as a teenager and as an adult, is the key character that three generations revolve around.

The audience watch Vic as he grows up in Angelus, and then as an adult grappling with his past demons. It is never explained just why he is so haunted, but with that comes the realisation of just how different people are. Some people came out of growing up in the 70’s in Angelus perfectly normal (ish). Others, like Vic remain haunted.

Nick Simpson-Deeks, who is a newcomer to the Perth stage, holds the play together with his portrayal of Vic. He effectively moves between the teenage years (complete with a horrible 1970s long haired wig) to the older, not necessarily wiser lawyer and husband. I realised I had been drawn, almost stealthily, into the storyline when I found myself wanting to hug Vic, forgetting momentarily that he wasn’t real. Simpson-Deeks is definitely the highlight, and I hope Perth gets to see him in other theatre soon.

The other standouts were Samantha Murray and Steve Turner as Vic’s parents Carol and Bob. Their disintegrating marriage and eventual conclusion was heart wrenching to watch. Also of note was Jai Courtney. In one of his first professional theatre roles, he was perfect as the silent and slightly scary Boner.

Ernie Lang (Reg Cribb) brother to Bob, provided the lighter moments of the play, accompanied by Michelle Fornasier as his sometimes wife Cleo Lang, and Caroline McKenzie as Bob and Ernie’s hilariously stereotypical straight down the line Australian mother. Whilst I eventually found their characters grating, they did provide a welcome contrast to the desperation and darkness shown in many of the other scenes. The cast excelled in their multiple roles, seamlessly moving between the times and characters with the help of full costume changes and wigs (designed by Sam Hobbs). The other performers completed the small cast are Alison Van Reeken playing Gail Lang and Jackie Martin, and newcomer Pia Prendiville in multiple roles.

The biggest problem I found with the show was the continuous set changes. There are 26 scenes in the play, and almost each one is preceded by a scene change. Although the set designed by Sam Hobbs was effective (with sand dunes, jetty, beds and tables to represent various locations) it was tiresome to see it moved on and off. It was like watching a fantastic movie that kept being interrupted by ad breaks.

And a side note to the crew. I’ve said it before. Please wear BLACK! Not faded black or dark grey. Not short sleeves. Two crew members stood out like they had spotlights on them.

With four large screens on stage, the use of film created by Jon Green, was almost an entire story by itself. It was highly effective and gave the story a reality it would have otherwise lacked on the stage.

As usual, Kingsley Reeve’s sound design was brilliant. I’ve known Reeve for over ten years and his designs and capability in setting the scene via sound has never ceased to amaze me. So too, does Iain Grandage’s compositions. Here Reeve’s soundscapes were joined by Grandage’s haunting piano based score. Together, and with the visual element of film, I was transported to the various locations in WA. It was one of those beautiful performances where the technical elements come together to produce magic.

It never ceases to amaze me how three hours can be an eternity for a bad show, but this show, at 3.5 hours is not overly so. My back protested, and it would benefit from editing, but the story was compelling enough to keep me interested.

I don’t think anything will ever match the brilliance of Cloudstreet (the theatre version). But The Turning, with its powerful family themes, typically Australian setting and problems, comes close many times. This is a must see for anyone who loves Australian theatre.  

Perth Theatre Company presents
 by Tim Winton | re-imagined by Bill McCluskey

Venue: Playhouse Theatre, 3 Pier St, Perth
Dates: Friday 22 February – Saturday 8 March 2008
Times: Tuesdays – Saturday @ 8pm; Wednesday matinees @ 11am; Saturday matinees @ 2pm; Sundays @ 6pm; No Monday performances
Tickets: Stan: $55 / Friends: $50 / Concession: $45 / Previews: $45 / Groups: 6+ppl: $52
Bookings: BOCS 9484 1133

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