Director John Sheedy said he felt a lot of pressure in bringing the classic Australian children's book Storm Boy to the stage, beloved as it was by generations.
The artistic director of Perth's Barking Gecko Theatre Company, which produces theatre for young people, Sheedy said Colin Thiele's 1964 novel - made into an award-winning 1976 film - came to mind several years ago as a potential project. He took it to the Sydney Theatre Company which came on board as co-producer.
"We got Tom Holloway to adapt - he's one of my favourite Australian playwrights."
Sheedy said Holloway was faithful to Thiele's story and his style - "economic with huge impact". The production premiered in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of the book's publication.
Storm Boy is the story of a boy (played by Otis Pavlovic) whose mother has died and whose fisherman father, Hideaway Tom (Julian Garner), has moved them to a remote coastal shack. Roaming the beaches, the boy befriends an Aboriginal man, Fingerbone Bill (Jimi Bani) who's lost his people and a family of orphaned penguins he names Mr Ponder, Mr Proud, and his favourite, Mr Percival.
"There isn't a female in the story," Sheedy said.
"It's about very fragile men in a rough and wild landscape withdrawn from society because of traumatic events in their lives."
The pelicans were crucial to the story and Sheedy said, "For three seconds we thought of bringing real ones in." But then the decision was made to use puppets, carefully crafted to be the size of real pelicans and operated by two Indigenous performers, Tony Mayor and Phil Dean-Walford.
Otis Pavlovic, 14, said he saw his character as "a boy who loves nature" and who experienced loss and had to deal with it. It was not, he said, the kind of thing he'd had to deal with personally - "thankfully" - and being in the 2015 production of Storm Boy was "one of the best experiences I've ever had".
Pavlovic began dance lessons when he was six and started acting professionally when he was 11. He said he had asked his mother for a horse and she told him to buy it with his own money and acting seemed like a way to earn it.
His credits include The Winter's Tale with Bell Shakespeare, Waiting for Godot with the Sydney Theatre Company and the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Now a Year 9 student at Newtown Performing Arts High School in Sydney, he intended to pursue acting as a career. But he still had not bought a horse.
"My sister convinced me to get a dog."
Storm Boy is on at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, until Saturday, June 6. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
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