The Sydney Morning Herald
By Judy Robinson
December 31, 1993
HUGO Weaving’s muscles are stiff and sore, but he is having far too good a time to care.
He and seven other performers make up the cast of the world premiere production of Tim Winton’s That Eye, The Sky – the first play of The Burning House company – which happily coincides with the Sydney Festival & Carnivale.
The cast is rehearsing with ropes, harness, enthusiasm and a little bit of circus in their performance space – a converted sandstone church in East Sydney. When they are not required to speak onstage, they become part of a"chorus" which weaves the descriptive words of Winton’s novel into creative movement that underpins the dialogue.
Weaving says it is getting them all fit, although he admits the daily gyrations have left his legs just a little sore.
"It’s difficult stuff," he says. "We’re battling through things, working together, trying ideas. With any creative process you find yourself presented with barriers, and when you get over them, the state of frustration leads to excitement.
"Gradually as we work we understand what we’re forming, and the language we’re expressing. There’s a lot of magical things that happen in the book, so to express them onstage has been quite difficult. But there’s all sorts of leading talents here, so there’s things we can all teach each other."
Weaving says the play’s script – adapted from the book by Burning House founders Justin Monjo and Richard Roxburgh – is the day-to-day working tool for the players. The book itself was "the bible" and the cast spent their first rehearsal day reading it aloud from cover to cover.
The main character is 12-year-old Ort (short for Morton) Flack. His father is in a coma following a car accident, and the story is a chronicle of his -and other people’s – methods of coping with the trauma, and seeking to bring Mr Flack back to consciousness.
Ort has a dreamlike, almost fantasy-like understanding of the world, seeing a bright, white cloud over his family’s house, and diamonds instead of rice on the kitchen shelves.
"He seems to have a very natural, simple, childlike faith in the world around him," says Weaving. "It’s his own world, which he invents with a great deal of spirit, by contrast with other characters … but they don’t have the same sort of faith. His is deeper or stronger, in a way."
He describes his own character, Henry Warburton, as a tormented soul who arrives in the midst of this family crisis and attempts to pray Mr Flack back to health and convert the rest of his family. He also hopes to save himself in the process.
Henry has the opposing forces of religion on one hand and sex on the other. An ex-free love hippie, he returns to the faith of his childhood but cannot break free from the past.
"He’s trying very hard but basically hates himself," says Weaving. "He’s a fascinating character, has his own charm and puts in an enormous effort, but can’t shake his father off his back – and he’s also lusting after the daughter of the family."
The play is not easily pigeon-holed, being a combination of several different styles. Comedy and drama balance against confrontation and introversion, stillness and physical expression, and even the actors cannot say what the final mixture will be.
But in a way, Weaving’s final explanation sums up both the play and the company: "It’s like an exploration."