This Sydney Festival, children’s imaginations will be stretched far beyond oversized bananas and highly strung presenters. So too it seems, will the imaginations of adults.
Patricia Wrightson’s The Nargun And The Stars, the winner of the Australian Children’s Book of the Year in 1974 and Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1986 has been transformed into a visual masterpiece for the stage. This Sydney Festival, children’s imaginations will be stretched far beyond oversized bananas and highly strung presenters. So too it seems, will the imaginations of adults.
The epic story heavily laced with indigenous mythology follows the story of Simon (Tom Green), who has been sent to live with his distant cousins, Edie (Annie Byron) and Charlie (Bill Young) on their farm in Wongadilla after his parents die in a car crash. Despite Simon’s initial reservations of nature which seems so dark and lonely, he sets out to discover the forest. There he finds a swamp and a strange rock on top of a mountain that soon reveals itself as much more.
But it’s what’s inside the swamp and in the caves that has Simon returning on his treacherous expeditions. Beyond the forest niceties, there lives the mischievous Potkoorok and Turongs, the bat-like Nylons and the angry Nargun all indigenous beasts from a time before “men with loud machines” came to disturb the peace.
The Nargun, the terrifying rock creature is as monstrous in creation as in character. Not only do we get swallowed by the story unfolding so vividly before us, we are dazzled by the inventive use of props. We watch as Simon swims through the ocean, runs from the thundering storm and settles for his evening “cuppa” all behind a transparent curtain reflecting the scenes through traced imagery and dramatic lighting.
ERTH make a spectacular effort in bringing to life a story that only a child’s imagination could equally render. Puppet designer Bryony Anderson, audiovisual artist Samuel James, composer Phil Downing and the six puppeteers all combine to make a visual feast that will impress even the special effect gurus among us.
Behind the gloss of superb visuals, Tom Green makes a great young ‘lass’ who quickly emerges as courageous, intuitive Simon frolicking through the forest with all the boyish charm Green could muster. Young and Byron’s laconic farming folk personas carry the heart of the show with Byron’s concentrated energy lifting every scene just a notch.
Wrightson’s narrative follows indigenous folklore and is designed for an 8-13 year old audience. Yet its technical brilliance and rich themes cater for all. As Scott Wright puts it in his director’s notes, Australian children probably know more about fairies, dragons and trolls than what a Bunyip looks like and where it comes from. Nargun with the Stars highlights the importance of being in touch with indigenous stories which embrace the mythology of the land we inhabit.
An enchanting story that no child should miss.
Read an Arts Hub interview with the Director of ERTH, Scott Wright, by clicking here.
The Nargun and The Stars runs at Parramatta’s Riverside Studios from 15-21 January 2008 as part of the Sydney Festival. The production then travels to the Perth International Arts Festival from 18 February - 1 March 2009.