Left – Bert LaBonte and Natasha Herbert. Cover – Guy Simon and Benjamin Oakes. Photos – Pia Johnson
Cloudstreet is a problematic play. Whilst it has been adapted for stage before and for the small screen not long ago, Tim Winton’s story of two working class families flung together during the end of WW2 in suburban Perth is a confusing tale of tragedy, love, friendship, betrayal with elements of the supernatural entwined in the narrative.
The set is eerily stark and remarkably elaborate at the same time, designer Zoë Atkinson has captured the grandiose character of the house with her moving pieces that reveal more and more layers to this unfolding story. Water that seeps from the floor is a conscious choice, almost implying the water is another character. Water features heavily in Cloudstreet. The tragedy that befalls the Lamb’s during a prawn fishing outing and forever changes their lives, and the desperation that Fish Lamb (Benjamin Oaks) has to return to the element that almost killed him.
When Sam Pickles’ luck changes and he is bequeathed a huge, if somewhat eerie mansion in Cloudstreet, he quickly moves the family to Perth, much to his wife Rose’s (Natasha Herbert) distaste. The Pickles family who tend to live life by the seat of their pants and with lady luck as their deity are in far contrast to the heavily and salt-of-the-earth Catholic Lamb’s.
Both family’s experience the troubles of rebuilding life after WW2, Oriel Lamb, played by Alison Whyte is determined to keep her faith, even as her own world crashes around her. Her husband Lester (Greg Stone) is the comedic relief, the Aussie larrikin dad you either had or wished you had.
However it was Bert Labonte as Sam Pickles who stood out. His portrayal of the gambling addicted, digit missing father was performed so naturally, so comically, that for all his flaws, the audience was always in the palm of his (good) hand.
Joined by an ensemble cast that was at times double or triple cast, I found the lack of costume or demeanour change hard to engage with. It seemed the Lamb’s and the Pickles’ characters were well fleshed out, but all the side characters never really got a chance.
The supernatural elements were touched upon, as was the origin for the house being a haunted place. This could have allowed for a more in depth discussion on Indigenous Australian history, but came across instead as a cliché “built on an ancient burial ground” type of narrative.
Cloudstreet is an Australian classic, the depictions are for the most part spot on. The families’ interactions within themselves and their neighbours were as realistic and true as any today, (that’s if anyone actually spoke to their neighbours). It’s also a long show and at 5+ hours requires a big commitment from viewers. It’s an interesting look at humanity, but unfortunately the confusing nature of the story and multiple characters being played by one actor let the production down as audience members struggled to remember who was who.
Cloudstreet is a big budget piece with lots going for it, in fact there’s simply too much story to squeeze into the two-part production which can either be consumed over one day or two. It’s a lot to take in and the quality of sets, lighting and acting is certainly worth it.
Malthouse Theatre presents
adapted by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo from the novel by Tim Winton
Director Matthew Lutton
Venue: The Malthouse Theatre | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: 6 May – 16 June 2019