Left - (l-r) Natasha Jacobs, Kristin Keam, Christopher Rickerby, Stephanie Calthorpe, Kerrie-Anne Baker, Fleur Murphy. Cover - (l-r) Natasha Jacobs, Fleur Murphy, Stephanie Calthorpe, Kerrie-Anne Baker, Christopher Rickerby. Photos - Toni Goodfellow
The sound of dripping water and silhouettes illuminated against a blackened stage draw us in. Slowly the darkness recedes revealing the Stewart family who sit motionless around a dishevelled kitchen table.
So begins One Cloud which delineates the story of an unwanted visitor named Stella Harper who arrives on an island named ‘Paradise’ in search of a place to which she can belong. Paradise is an isolated island, inhabited only by the Stewart family. Entrenched in histories of mythic proportions, Paradise is safely guarded by strict codes of conduct and unfathomable traditions. The Stewart family have been raising generations of “heroes” and following the recent death of their patriarch Henry Stewart, Pup Stewart is reluctantly being groomed to take his place. Although Stella is initially greeted with excitement and curiosity, it is not long before she realises that Paradise is not exactly what she had expected. Indeed, life on the island is merely a “replica of the real” and the freedom and comfort which Stella had sought seems to evaporate as her presence disrupts the unity and ambitions of the Stewart family.
According to director Sarah McCusker, although One Cloud was inspired by the murder of Janelle Patton on Norfolk Island, the play is not the story of a murdered woman; but rather, "a theatrical take on what happens when outsiders who know no better break a community's self-created rules". In One Cloud writer Shannon Murdoch examines the notions of isolation, difference, oppression and being. One Cloud is a play in which “a young woman, a fiercely patriotic community, and a murder, tells not one story but thousands, most of them quiet and hidden deep beneath the surface”.
One Cloud promises a lot theatrically – “no bravery, just chaos” in the words of Beth Stewart – and in some ways, it delivers. The collision of the two opposed worlds in One Cloud, the isolated island of ‘Paradise’ and the unseen “other” world from which Stella emerges, form a conceptual backdrop which fortifies the entire play. However, from the very beginning of One Cloud, the audience is made too aware of the island’s pretence of perfection and as a result One Cloud never really has the lift-off which the premise of the play sets up. Rather, the premature disclosure, and continual reference, to this pretence of perfection, nullifies the play’s suspense and precludes the audience from reaching this realisation in tandem with Stella. As a result One Cloud opens and closes with disillusionment and disorder since Stella’s unwanted arrival to ‘Paradise’ carries too much dramatic irony, diluting the theatrical potency of Stella’s catalytic presence. Accordingly, it is not necessarily Stella - who was meant to rupture the Stewart’s façade of perfection - who tears the family’s “reality” apart; but rather Pup’s intense reluctance to become the fabled Henry Stewart. Played by Christopher Rickerby Pup is an object of ridicule, an unlikely hero who is burdened with the responsibility of ensuring the endurance of his family in Paradise. He blunders his way around the stage, clumsily walking into furniture and childishly demanding food. It would have been more fitting for the fragility of Paradise to have been revealed in a more balanced way, through the corresponding perspective of Stella and Pup and through an emphasis on their relationship.
Pup’s insecurities and inadequacies are poignantly played off in scenes involving his younger sister Beth Stewart, played by Natasha Jacobs. Jacobs encapsulates Beth with a fierceness which aptly reveals her distress and sense of oppression. It is interesting that it is the demanding, explosive and sometimes brattish Beth who engenders the most sympathy while demanding to know why she exists and what her purpose is. While this theme is expressed throughout One Cloud by numerous characters, it is Beth who seems to articulate the question most passionately and with conviction.
Despite the plateau in One Cloud’s rising action Murdoch’s play is underscored by an intriguing conceptual inquiry which is agitated throughout the play. One Cloud unveils and toys with a fascinating question: How do you prepare a boy to be a myth? Pup Stewart’s struggle to become the heroic Henry Stewart not only consumes his family, it also erodes his innocence and the hope that Stella brought to him upon her arrival to Paradise. It is perhaps this question which resonates most powerfully in One Cloud. Through Murdoch’s writing, the cast converge upon this question and upon each other as the perfection of Paradise rapidly begins to crack.
The Theatreworks 2008 Company Initiative Program and Lady Muck present
by Shannon Murdoch
Directed by Sarah McCusker
Performed by Kerrie-Anne Baker, Stephanie Calthorpe, Natasha Jacobs, Kristin Keam, Fleur Murphy, Christopher Rickerby and Kylie Trounson
Venue: Theatreworks | 14 Acland Street St. Kilda
Dates: November 13 – 29, 2008
Times: Tues - Sat @ 8.00pm; Sat matinees @ 2.00pm
Tickets: $25 Full / $20 Conc.
Bookings: 9534 3388 / www.theatreworks.org.au