In the eye of the storm

19 September 2023

Breaksea’s poignant story of the search for light in the darkest hours ignites the senses. Julie Hosking rides the waves of emotion.

Thunderstorm, Breaksea 
Art Gallery of WA, 16 September 2023 

The clouds are gathering outside as I head into the Art Gallery of WA for a different kind of Thunderstorm

It’s the final production of Breaksea’s fifth season and there’s an air of expectation in this interesting performance space. 

Rows of chairs line either side of the makeshift stage – a rectangle strip of floor with a wall at one end, a circular staircase hinting of more to come at the other. Tucked under the stairs a trio of musicians and conductor Pia Harris await. 

The level seating makes it hard to see from the back row, so I stand, taking in the few props – stacked sandbags and a chair – before composer and co-writer Jonathan Brain coaxes the guitar to life, the back wall bursts into a fiery sky and Thunderstorm begins.  

A child moves out into the middle with her parents and the gentle voices of angels float down from above, the Aquinas Schola Cantorum supporting Brain’s haunting call “to cradle my children tonight”. 

“Dad, what are you doing,” the girl asks, as the music stops and she goes over to where her father stares into the distance. “Just looking.” “At what?” “The stars, Tilly.” 

TIlly (Winnie de Silveira) wants to know why there are so many and Harry (Jarrad Inman) reminds her of the story their old people tell, singing a sweet refrain for her to hold onto:  

One day when we’re apart/you can look and see this star/ that we’ve wished upon just now/and I’ll come back to you somehow.   

Brilliant constellations make way for desolate images. Dark clouds form; Harry is on his way to the battlefronts of World War I, thousands of kilometres from his daughter and the southern skies. 

Harris raises the baton, whipping up musical drama to match the battlefield backdrop, as the soaring voices of Rachael Colmer, Ashlyn Tymms, Morgan Cowling and Lachlann Lawton reverberate around the room like silken gunfire.  

The Aquinas Schola Cantorum joins experienced singers in ‘Thunderstorm’. Photo: Manolo Media

Keep an eye on the stars, Harry reminds Tilly in letters home. But soon Harry cannot see their glittering presence. War has robbed him of his sight, at least temporarily, and he relies on new friend Arthur (Tadgh Lawrence) to describe them. How will Harry find his way back, not just home to Albany, but to himself? 

This reworking of Breaksea’s By Other Eyes, inspired by stories gathered in the Great Southern and written to commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day in 2018, is an evocative mix of narrative, music and imagery. Roland Skender’s projections are strikingly effective in conveying mood as well as a sense of time and place. 

The decision to bring the Aquinas Schola Cantorum, led by Hugh Lydon, into the fold is also genius. Created and directed by Breaksea artistic director Matt Ward, Thunderstorm is at its most moving when the boys choir descends the stairs en masse, their voices enveloping the stricken soldier like a comforting blanket.  

Their soloists – Isaac Wake, Sebastian Jennings, Maxime Blackadder and James Hawke – start tentatively, almost shyly, but as the boys grow in confidence, so does the impact of such sweet sounds against the sombre setting. 

Breaksea has an admirable focus on bringing youth and experience together, and nurturing the next generation of performers in all it does. But it’s the Great Southern arts organisation’s push to do so in innovative and imaginative ways that makes the collaborations special. 

Thunderstorm is no exception. Back home in the safety of Albany, Tilly again finds her father staring at the sky. “No stars out tonight,” he tells her. “They’re still there, Dad – the clouds are just in the way,” she replies. 

A metaphor for a brighter future perhaps. The hint of light in even the darkest of times. Take away what you will from this beautifully understated depiction of hope amid horror. 

When the applause stops, celebrated soprano and Breaksea patron Rachelle Durkin leads the audience in a lusty rendition of Happy Birthday, incredible voices filling the gallery once more.  

Happy birthday, Breaksea. May you enjoy many, many more. 

Breaksea is bringing The Magical Weedy Seadragon to Awesome Festival, 26-30 September 2023.

Pictured top: Jarrad Inman plays Harry, a soldier a long way from home in ‘Thunderstorm’. Photo: Manolo Media

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Author —
Julie Hosking

A journalist with more words to her name than she can count, Julie Hosking has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Melbourne and Perth. She has been a news editor, travel editor, features editor, arts editor and, for one terrifying year, business editor, before sanity prevailed and she landed in her happy place - magazines. If pushed (literally), she favours the swing.

Past Articles

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