Written when he was just 25 and before Cloudstreet established Tim Winton as one of the country’s premier novelists, That Eye, the Sky is now an Australian classic that’s well worth revisiting.
So it’s a welcome decision from State Theatre Company to return Justin Monjo and Richard Roxburgh’s 1994 Belvoir St adaptation to the stage, with Director Kate Champion creating an affective and engaging piece of theatre.
It shouldn’t be taken for granted that a version of this source material will necessarily hit the mark, as demonstrated in the mess made by the 1994 film adaptation that inexplicably turned the character of the struggling nomadic evangelist, Henry Warburton, into an American and just failed to get the tone right.
The real joy of this theatrical rendition is in the language, preserving the power and humour of Winton’s writing and its genuine Australian voice. Matched with some excellent staging and a solid ensemble of actors, That Eye, the Sky is a satisfying piece of theatre.
While there are one or two slow spots in the production, the direction is generally strong, making excellent use of the multi-purpose set. The car crash that puts the story in motion is staged to powerful effect and the ‘cloud’ that forms the pivotal vision of central character Ort Flack hovers meaningfully above the action throughout.
While there may not be the same acrobatics of the original production here, Champion makes particularly effective use of water at the front. More than just an attempt at clever visual metaphor, the water forms an integral part of the story (particularly so for those in the front rows – so be warned).
The cast works very well as an ensemble (including a live chicken), with standout performances from Kate Cheel as disaffected teenager Tegwyn, Christopher Pitman in the role of the enigmatic Warburton and Elena Carapetis as Ort’s mother Alice. Meanwhile, the focus of Bill Allert, who spends almost the entire length of the play in a vegetative state, is quite something to behold.
That Eye, the Sky is an important story, considering issues of faith, family and resilience through the eyes of a 12 year old boy and delivered with an authentically Australian character that’s warm, humorous and moving. State Theatre Company and Kate Champion should be congratulated for staging it once again and for doing a fine job.
State Theatre Company’s That Eye, the Sky will be performed at the Dunstan Playhouse until 16 September.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor
Pictures supplied, credit: Chris Herzfeld