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Storm Boy - Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)

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by May Cross (subscribe)
I'm a writer, artist and keen photographer.
Event: -
Update August 9th 2019
Please note that this is currently playing and closes on Saturday 17th. Although it is on at QPAC, it is not a QPAC show but Queensland Theatre.

Mr Percival brought to life
storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
Exquisite Hi Tech Puppets (May Cross)


Like most Aussies, I read Storm Boy by Colin Thiele at school and loved it. It is one of the most endearing and enduring Australian novels ever. It has now been adapted for the stage, by Tom Holloway and is coming to Brisbane. The story transcends generations and the play is sure to as well. So I was thrilled to be invited to meet Mr Percival personally on set at the Playhouse in QPAC, Southbank.

storm boy, colin Thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
The Life Like Set (May Cross)


Sam Strong, Director nd Queensland Theatre's Artistic Director, said that the designers had two problems to face:
1. How to make the landscape on stage become a character?
2. How to bring the animals to life on stage?
The set is a beautiful dune landscape reminiscent of my childhood spent playing at the beach. It certainly evokes the book's famous setting of Coorong in South Australia. The sand looks real but real sand would have been impractical on stage. The set designers used the same material that children's playgrounds are made from, (but up close it resembles pebble-dash, that old fashioned mortar and pebbles combination used to coat external walls). Think acrobatic and circus-style. There is a delicate mixture of the literal, cinematic and poetic. And the Director let slip that the set sits much better in Brisbane's Playhouse than it did on the Melbourne stage. Of course, chalk another win up to Brisvegas.

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
Director Sam Strong (May Cross)

"Dead Puppet Society is the most exciting puppet company and visual arts company in the country". High praise indeed, from Sam. David Morton, Associate Director and Puppet Designer of Storm Boy and Dead Puppet Society's Creative Director, told me about the process of building puppets. He said that the pelican puppet had 1,200 pieces so that means 1,200 separate hand drawings on CAD (Computer-aided Design) and took three months to design. Fortunately, he and his team didn't have to reproduce this12 times for the dozen pelican puppets but could replicate them, including 2:3 scale models of the flying pelicans. There will also be other puppet creatures on stage, 28 in total - a fantastical menagerie. I got to view up close the darling little fairy penguins, articulated tiger snake, mackerel and crayfish backstage. What a treat! I haven't included any photos of these extraordinary creatures as I don't want to spoil the surprise. Although puppetry is an ancient form of theatre dating back to the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece, don't be a muppet and think this is like Punch and Judy. These are gorgeous hi-tech puppets.

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac
Associate Director David Morton (May Cross)


Mr Percival, the hero pelican, is the Rolls Royce of the pelican world. And he is truly a beautifully detailed objet d'art, as well as being a character in his own right. He can move his head, feet, beak and wings, and appears to talk, walk and fly, all without a spring in sight. Magic. For those of you who want to know the technical specifications the puppets are made of laser-cut lightweight plywood with aluminium parts with a little leather and plastic. No glue was used in their construction and all key mechanisms are isolated for easy replacement (unlike the parts in modern cars where it seems you have to replace a whole engine for the sake of a damaged widget.) The real juggling act (circus pun intended) with making these puppets is their weight versus resilience. They need to be light-weight enough to handle on stage but robust enough to last the two month season of Storm Boy. For example, they were packed and then trucked from Melbourne to Brisbane which took 18 hours of travelling. (I bet they kept asking, "Are we there yet?")

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
Mr Percival (May Cross)


The three puppeteers are all exquisite actors in their own right. There is no attempt to hide either the manipulation nor the mechanism and these are part of the visual experience of the performance, and I am assured that the audiences love it.
A fun fact: The puppets' eyes are all made of obsidian which is jet-black, volcanic glass (you may know it as "dragon glass" in Game of Thrones.) They are so life-like that I swear that Mr Percival was watching me. See the beady eyes?

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
C D BD i? (May Cross)


The heart-warming play (and novel) depends on relationships: those between the men Hideway Tom (John Batchelor returning to Queensland) and Fingerbone Bill with Storm Boy as well as the bird and boy friendship. but there is also a lovely relationship between the puppeteer and the puppets. The puppets mirror real animals but seem to express even more emotion and can demonstrate the relationships with the six people/cast on stage.

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes


Remember that old maxim by W.C. Fields who said, "Never work with Children or Animals." They are scene stealing and completely unpredictable. I am counting on it when I see the play this week.

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
Mr P about to fly (May Cross)


Storm Boy in a Nutshell
Young Storm Boy (played by 15 year old Conor Lowe) lives a simple yet free life on the coastal wilds of the South Australian Coorong, combing the beaches with his reclusive father, Hideaway Tom. During a long summer, he makes two friends who will shepherd him from childhood into adulthood: the jester Fingerbone Bill, who teaches him about his country and Mr Percival, an orphaned pelican who prepares Storm Boy for the wider world with a bitter sweet lesson about love, loss and letting go.

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
Hard to believe this is not real sand (May Cross)


Good to know
The matinee performance on Saturday 10 August at 2.00pm is a relaxed performance. This is a chance to experience the wonder of live performance in an environment that is informal and open to all audience reactions. Relaxed performances are for everyone, and are particularly suitable for audiences with disabilities including autism spectrum conditions, sensory communication or learning disabilities.

storm boy, colin thiele, puppets, puppeteer, playhouse, qpac, may cross, beady eyes
Sam and Dave on Set (May Cross)

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*May Cross was invited as a guest
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Why? Everybody loves Storm Boy
When: 29 July to 17 August
Phone: 1800355528
Where: Playhouse @ QPAC
Cost: $73-$90
Your Comment
Mr Percival is a very impressive pelican, May! Great review!
by Elaine (score: 3|6678) 65 days ago
Nice work May, always a good review.
by eddie (score: 1|63) 71 days ago
A lovely movie, a lovely performance, I'm sure.
by Susan J Bowes (score: 3|1372) 71 days ago
Thanks for taking the time to read Susan.
by May Cross (score: 3|5382) 71 days ago
May that is lovely. Is Mr P still alive do you know?
by May Cross (score: 3|5382) 70 days ago
A lovely review, May.
I actually patted the real Mr Percival from the movie when he lived in Adelaide Zoo nearly thirty years ago. Lovely memories. Thankyou
by May (score: 2|567) 70 days ago
What a fabulous story, a little sad at times, but just great!
by eddie (score: 1|63) 46 days ago
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