That Eye, the Sky, adapted by Richard Roxburgh and Justin Monjo from the novel by Tim Winton | Directed by David Burrowes

New Theatre | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 16 April

Adapting a novel for the stage is never an easy task, particularly when the novel’s author is as unique a wordsmith as is Tim Winton. Richard Roxburgh and Justin Monjo took on that task, bringing That Eye, The Sky to life more than 20 years ago.

New Theatre’s current run of That Eye, The Sky takes Roxburgh’s and Monjo’s adaptation, maintaining the structure, but — as Director David Burrowes notes — bringing back in more of the original book’s prose.

13-year-old Morton Flack (Joel Horwood), better known as Ort, lives with his family in a small town in Western Australia.

Dad Sam (Shaun Martindale) and Mum Alice (Romney Stanton) are hippies from way back.

Daughter  Tegwyn (Emma Wright), like many 16-year-old girls, alternates between intense fury and embarrassment at her family.

There’s also resentment at taking on so much of the care of her grandmother (played in disturbing but strangely effective style by a wheelchair-bound mannequin with the voice of Alice Livingstone coming through on a speaker draped around its neck).

The Flack family’s world is rocked by a terrible accident that leaves Sam paralysed. As they struggle to adjust, a salvation of sorts arrives in the form of the mysterious Henry (also played by Martindale, while Sam is replaced by another mannequin).

The first person narrative of the novel is gone in the adaptation. While this removes the need to break the fourth wall, it also creates distance — to the point where it was difficult to develop an emotional connection with these characters.

This was not helped by breaking the production into two relatively short acts with an interval, as leaving this particular world to chat in the foyer made it hard to once again settle into the story.

Clever use of movement and an ambitious stage design gives That Eye, The Sky strong visual appeal, but there were times when overuse of back lighting and strobe made it actually physically uncomfortable to watch.

An energetic ensemble cast (also featuring Simon Thomson, Alex Bryant-Smith and Jenae O’Connor) worked well together on a physically demanding production.

It was most certainly well-received by an enthusiastic and large audience. While I wasn’t totally won over by this production, it’s always wonderful to see and support the great variety of high quality independent theatre that New Theatre provides.

All images: Bob Seary