Iain Grandage is one of Australia’s most highly regarded collaborative artists, having won Helpmann Awards for his compositions for Theatre (Cloudstreet, Secret River), for Dance (When Time Stops), for Opera – with Kate Miller-Heidke (The Rabbits), for silent film – with Rahayu Suppangah (Satan Jawa) and as a music director for Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl and Secret River. In May 2018, the Perth Festival appointed Iain as Artistic Director. Here he reflects on his connection to Cloudstreet since composing the original production in 1998:
If you want a quintessential book about a city, our city, it’s hard to go past Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. It holds a special place in the hearts of many West Australians – mine included. Whilst it is a product of its time, it was part of a wave of consciousness that is now omnipresent – a consciousness about belonging and history and understanding the land beneath our feet, this Nyoongar Boodjar.
My relationship with the work started during the preparations for Neil Armfield’s original production, when Tim Winton showed the creative team around a number of locations on the Swan River and its surrounds, sharing his formative ideas for the book. He spoke of family and forgetting, of isolation and erasure of the past, of the impossible lure of the river. That theatrical adaption went on to play almost 200 times to audiences around the country and the world – from here at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour, with fish and chips shared at the water’s edge while the sun set into the ocean, to a wharf shed in Zurich, where Wintonisms like ‘We’re so poor we don’t have a nail to hang our asses on’ were somewhat lost in translation to the Swiss. We played the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC and the Dublin Theatre Festival – perhaps our most rapturous receptions. We played London to masses of homesick ex-pat Australians and BAM in New York during late September 2001, while the twin towers still burned across the East River. There, more than most places, the sense of community created by this epic piece of theatre was palpable.
We had accidents aplenty to match the ovations. Dan Wyllie as Fish Lamb exiting the rear doors of the theatre to his exquisite and longed-for communion with the water, only to be met by … a bin truck. The lighting desk frying itself in Perth and me taking requests from the waiting audience for the longest 45 minutes of my life. Clare Jones, the original Rose Pickles, slicing her knee open on opening night in London. Tim himself visited on a number of occasions, especially during the Fremantle season, when he would appear at the rear of the Endeavour Boat Shed with his dog in tow, staring at his family story come to life.
That touring troupe became a family. A family that took this, our little corner of the world, to the rest of the globe. It is a thrill to welcome it back home in this epic and haunting new production by the wonderful Matthew Lutton.
Cloudstreet is performing at His Majesty's Theatre in Perth from February 21 to March 15. Tickets can be purchased via our website here.