Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton, is set in the western suburbs of Perth some 50 years ago. And yet there is still so much we recognise. Last night we went with some friends to the 5 hour (+dinner) play at HIs Majesties Theatre, based on the book.
I had expected to be critical of the length of the play, thinking that surely the essence of the story could have been diluted into a more manageable time frame, given the nature of adaptations. Now I can only say that not only was I not flagging at all by the end, but I would happily have stayed on for one more act – had there been one! Loud explosions and sudden black-outs, strategically placed though out the performance, did serve to startle any dozers immediately back to life, which was a clever strategy. But for me the sheer diversity and inherent humanity of the twelve characters was enough to hold me spellbound throughout the entire performance.
The action takes place in and around the big but rundown old house at no 1 Cloud Street, a fictional street in a non-fashionable suburb not far from the banks of the Swan River. With the use of a deceptively simple set and effective lighting the river, which features prominently in the story, becomes a character in its own right and is central to the plot. Sam Pickles, who has inherited the house from an elderly aunt, finds that it has a caveat attached. His inheritance depends on him not selling it for twenty years. He deals with this difficulty by moving his large family in to one half of the house and renting out the other half to the equally large and impoverished Lamb family. Some of them are not enthusiastic about this arrangement. ‘We’ll become known as Lamb and Pickles,’ Oriel Lamb complains, not wanting to acknowledge that they really have nowhere else to go. But in time the house works its spell on them and after many events, some humorous and some tragic, the two families begin the blend into one large, funny, chaotic and long-suffering group.
Don’t miss Cloudstreet! Like me you will still be thinking and talking about it long after you have staggered home to bed.