Review: Cloudstreet

The play of Cloudstreet started at 6:30pm. The first intermission was at 8pm. The play resumed at 8:35pm with the second intermission at 10:30pm, resuming again at 10:50pm. It finally finished at midnight.

So that's five and a half hours trapped in Riverside Studios on the Thames, being completely and utterly Cloudstreet-ed. Those I spoke to during the evening echoed a similar theme: we want more, please don't let it end.

This was complete and utter magic. Leaning heavily on the text of Tim Winton's wonderful novel, the play is a theatrical tour de force, bewitching, captivating and frequently heartbreaking. I sat transfixed, laughing one moment and almost lost in tears the next. Think of it as an exhilarating emotional rollercoaster upon which you are a more-than-willing passenger.

We laughed at the irrepressible Fish Lamb in the opening scene, cavorting around like a fool. Minutes later, we were holding back tears at the terrible accident that suddenly left him permanently brain-damaged. The next scene saw Rose Pickles visiting her father Sam in hospital, where he is recovering from an accident that ripped off four fingers and half of his thumb from his right hand.

From those two incidents, the story unfolds. Unable to work, Sam is only saved by the death of an uncle who bequeaths to him the great rickety house at No 1 Cloudstreet, Perth. With no other prospects, Sam the gambling addict, his philandering wife Dolly, their long-suffering daughter Rose and their two sons take up residence. For income, Sam is forced to rent one half of the house to the god-fearing Lamb family. While the Pickles lurch from crisis to crisis, the Lambs forge ahead, trying to make sense of the tragedy that has befallen their much-loved Fish. Fish's brother Quick continues to blame himself while their mother Oriel struggles with the doubts that now haunt her own beliefs, blocking out her husband Lester in the process.

For what is a wild, sprawling and frequently outrageous tale (sometimes described as a soap opera) it carries deceptively deep moral undertones. For the first two acts, the audience watches transfixed by the extraordinary things that unfold in the lives of both families. As you might expect, the resolutions come in the third act but those moments of realisation happen suddenly and without warning, as a whimsical, everyday moment is suddenly underlined with unmistakeable meaning. The effect is nothing short of breathtaking. For all the struggles and tragedy, this is constantly life affirming stuff, a prickly tale that embraces with arms wide open.

During the first break, I shared a table and ate dinner with a middle-aged couple who turned out to be English thespians and unsurprisingly, keen theatregoers. They were gushing with praise for what they had seen up to that point. When I saw them again afterwards, Deirdra said the evening had been one of the best five hours of her life. I was there, I saw it too, it was impossible to argue with her. This was art of the compelling and unmissable variety.

To those who did miss it, I extend my deepest sympathies.


© David Gilliver 1999

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