Why see Cloudstreet?
Tim Winton is a name that rings with familiarity across Australia. He is a national treasure, a man whose stories have left an imprint in the literary history of this country and continue to mould and inspire creatives today. Though he has many successful titles tethered to his name, perhaps the most widespread is his 1991 novel Cloudstreet, which was initially co commissioned by Black Swan State Theatre Company and Company B Belvoir and adapted into a play in 1998, by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo
Cloudstreet is the story of two very different families, the Pickles and the Lambs, who find themselves residing in the same house in Perth, Western Australia during the 40s and 50s. Both families are struck by tragedy, familial conflict and the haunting presence of the past which they must navigate through side-by-side over a twenty-year timespan.
Black Swan Theatre Company of WA will be presenting Cloudstreet at His Majesty’s Theatre in summer 2020 as part of Perth Festival. Upon its announcement, I began to hear the excited mutterings of my parents, university tutors and basically anyone over the age of thirty. It is a beloved tale for these people, but time has prevented the ability for many young people to be exposed to Tim Winton’s masterpiece. That is perhaps why it is now the prime time for this story to be brought back to the professional stage, to introduce Tim Winton and his Australian classic to a new generation of people who need to experience it—after all, for stories to endure they must be retold.
Some may look at the time period of Cloudstreet, the characters, setting and the overall story and wonder how modern-day, young audiences are going to connect with such a piece of theatre - especially with a runtime of five hours. But as a twenty-year-old myself, I can personally vouch for the relevance and emotional resonance the themes and plot inspire. Such themes include grief, family, disability, community, searching for connection and facing the past. This brand-new production directed by Perth’s own Matthew Lutton has been developed with First Nation artists and we will be hearing the Nyoongar language on stage. With an understanding of how these themes arise within the play, it is fascinating how taking a step back in time, escaping our world of today and glancing at the past, we are faced with the same issues in today’s social climate as back then, highlighting how this story latches on to the human experiences that transcend time.
Building on this, Cloudstreet is unlike any other as it pairs these realistic themes with an exploration of the supernatural (magical realism, if you will) which adds unexpected elements to this already riveting performance.
Contrary to what others may say, I’m inclined to argue that young people are those that can take away the most from this story. At its core, there is a central focus on the children of both families who the audience witness growing up, attempting to find their own path. This, in tandem with the fact that all the characters (past and present) are trying to find a place to belong, is a crucial topic of exploration for young people faced with the confusion and uncertainty that comes with adolescents. It allows them to see and understand that they are not alone, that their experience is universal and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Finally, if we really want to touch on the five-hour running time, I think we can all be honest and admit that most—if not all—of us have spent AT LEAST five hours binging a TV show or worse, scrolling through Instagram and Facebook for a buzz of entertainment. Five hours at the theatre witnessing live performances and a classic Australian story is an extraordinary gift and much like when you’ve finished watching Netflix, you ask yourself: “Where’d all that time go?”
Telling a classic story in a new time has power. Different time periods and different audiences give different meaning based on the context of the time. For younger people or simply those who have yet to see Cloudstreet, I urge you to take the first step into the endlessly flowing river that is Tim Winton’s timeless story.
By Bronte Tompkins, Marketing Intern
Image: Cloudstreet company. By Pia Johnson.