If your high school was anything like mine, then you probably had Cloudstreet as required reading. But if you were like me, then you probably never read it yet somehow managed to pass all the essays. This was my chance to finally know what the heck I was writing about all those years ago.
Showing at His Majesty’s Theatre and hosted by the Black Swan Theatre Company, Cloudstreet is an icon when it comes to classic Australian literature. Written by the prolific novelist and WA local Tim Winton, Cloudstreet follows two dysfunctional families living in the same house over the course of 20 years. Set at the close of World War Two, the Pickles family inherit a big house on Cloud Street at the fringes of the Swan River, which becomes an important constant in the characters’ lives. However, Sam Pickles is a hopeless yet well intentioned gambler and can’t afford to upkeep the house nor is he allowed to sell the place for at least 20 years. After a tragedy hits the Lamb family, they decide to move to Perth where they rent half of the Pickles household. It’s a recipe for disaster and mayhem. The story also focuses on Quick Lamb, the darkly curious and melancholic son of the Lambs. And Rose Pickles, the bookish and fiercely independent daughter of the Pickles. These two are outliers in their own family, never being able to conform to the chaos that is their parents’ lives; yet are two sides of the same coin.
The show opened with actor Ian Michael, who stood in darkness and warned the audience of a life-changing accident that would happen to the beloved Fish Lamb. The set was barred back with a cave like backdrop. Lighting was used meticulously for indicating mood and place, which was executed wonderfully. The audience was introduced to the house on Cloud Street with foreboding walls sliding seamlessly from the sides of the stage, like entering an ancient temple of a long dead pharaoh. The walls created a distorted layout of the house, reflective of the non-traditional families that were soon to live there.
The actors embodied their characters swimmingly (there is a pun intended), especially the parents of each family. However, some actors were ensemble, meaning they had to play multiple characters. This made it quite awkward when Mrs Pickles’ son was her lover in a subsequent scene, perhaps a more sufficient costume change would trick the audience more or the addition of one more actor. But this is nit-picking and all actors pulled me into their worlds regardless.
Cloudstreet captures a moment in Australian history that is not often showcased. It effortlessly uses Aussie humour that is never lost on the audience. Despite the historical setting the characters could exist at any point in time, representing the hardships of life and overcoming pain. The characters must deal with real issues such as: depression, addiction, trauma, infidelity, heartbreak and loss. It is a journey they must go on to find where their true home lies. Each character is unique in their struggles and their dreams, that it’s hard not to relate to a them.
This is a play for those who enjoy a slow-burn drama, considering it is about six and half hours long including an 80 minute dinner intermission. However, if you find yourself peckish in the first half, before dinner, a free treat is given out to audience members.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet on stage, it was moving yet had many moments of light-heartedness and somehow familiar at the same time. It almost makes me wish I had read the book in high school.
Cloudstreet is showing at His Majesty’s Theatre till March 15, tickets starting from $39.
Content and sensory warning.