Caleb Lewis’ original work The River at the End of the Road, directed by Damien Ryan, is small budget theatre on a grand scale.
The HotHouse-Sport For Jove collaboration is a powerful new Australian musical fantasy of love, loss, life and death tied together over two hours by narrator Drew Livingston and his album full of original songs.
That it opened, literally, on the banks of the Murray River is apt.
Our introduction to accomplished stage veteran Mark Lee (playing Ford Shepherd) is the best use of location you will see.
The vision will live long after the curtain falls.
Nowhere else will the wow-factor this production delivers move you like it does at the Butter Factory Theatre.
Off stage, the sound work of Sean Van Doornum goes a long way to taking the audience down to the water’s edge.
Each step splashes and splishes gently through the shallows while the visuals and smart set design add to the atmosphere.
On stage there are no weak links, the cast is ably led by Lee and features Amy Usherwood (Lori), Bronwyn Lim (captain Dot) and Stacey Duckworth (Flo Shepherd) as well as HotHouse Theatre’s 2018 Studio Ensemble.
The journey of discovery from Gabriel Fancourt (Curtains) and Border local Kate Fruend’s (Holden) debut as a young cancer patient, bring added emotion and life to this story swirling in grief and death.
But it is Greg Fryer’s warm, gentle wisdom in his portrayal of Albert that perfectly presents – metaphorically and literally – the essence of what Lewis, Ryan and HotHouse artistic director Lyn Wallis hoped The River would be.
Lewis was commissioned to write a play drawing inspiration from our mighty Murray.
The River took two years to develop and involves professional actors in Sydney and Melbourne as well the outstanding crop of young talent that are HotHouse Theatre’s 2018 Studio Ensemble.
It hits the mark.
In less than a week together before opening night this combination has produced something wonderful and spectacular.
Not because it is crafted with computer generated imagery and special effects but because it is delivered by a dedicated team using well-crafted words that capture the essence of humanity and the longing for those we have lost lost.
In the guiding hands of Ryan, Sport For Jove’s award-winning artistic director, The River should do for live Australian theatre what CGI master Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, The Book of Life) did for the musical fantasy genre in Hollywood.
The River at the End of the Road plays at the Butter Factory Theatre until March 17. Go see it.