The Nargun and the Stars | ERTHPhotos - Prudence Upton

The Nargun and the Stars
is performing as part of the Sydney Festival, and is also one of several productions forming the Parramatta Riverside Theatre's festival of works for children.

Tales from indigenous Australian culture are often passed over in favour of European childrens' stories about elves, fairies, trolls and the like, but with The Nargun and the Stars, visual and physical arts company ERTH is working to encourage in children a greater awareness and love of uniquely Australian mythology. It is wonderful to see a sense of magic in an Australian natural world onstage.

The Nargun and the Stars has been adapted for the stage by Verity Laughton, who has drawn from Patricia Wrightson's novel of the same name. Wrightson has incorporated aspects of indigenous Australian legend into her tale of a young boy who comes to live on an outback farm and encounters mythical creatures through his travels into bushland surrounding the property.

The boy is Simon (Tom Green), who has lost his parents, and goes to stay with distant relations Edie (Annie Byron) and Charlie (Bill Young). Tom discovers the Nargun, a large rock-like creature, who has become enraged by the loud noises of man-made machinery and by the destruction of the natural landscape. As the Nargun journeys towards Charlie and Edie's property, Tom has to work with the other creatures of the bush to outwit the Nargun and keep his homestead safe. 

This story offers some intriguing and endearing creatures, through puppetry, in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and each of the three actors bring a warm and likeable quality to the stage. Nonetheless this production did feel a little laboured and slow, with some unnecessarily obvious dialogue, and a sense of heaving towards a resolution that did not feel natural.

There is also some dissonance between the tone of storytelling and the developments of the story, as underneath the childlike approach and sense of enchantment, there are some rather dark ideas at play. The Nargun is initially set up as a beautiful and majestic creature, that existed throughout the land before the dawn of time, before anything else existed. Yet as the story develops it is unclear as to exactly what we are meant to feel towards this creature, and eventually there is a sense that the Nargun is a fierce, terrifying foe to be trapped and beaten. Other mythical creatures belonging to the bushland end up trapped or dispossessed of their land, but this is put forward in a sweet and light-hearted way, which in this case leads to a confused sense of what the work is hoping to say.

But the standout aspect of this production is undoubtedly the design values. The puppet creations, set design, lighting choices and digital animation are all breathtaking, and combine to give an ethereal, exquisite quality to the work. And alongside the actors onstage, a ensemble of puppeteers work almost unseen onstage with richly textured materials, fine quality of movement, and the element of surprise, to make this a delightfully theatrical experience.

While ultimately the production did not quite hit the mark in terms of achieving an entirely well-paced, clear, and perhaps satisfying story, there is much to admire in this production, and Australian audiences will be fortunate indeed to be treated to more of ERTH's artistry and imagination in the future.

2009 Sydney Festival
The Nargun and the Stars
From the novel by Patricia Wrightson | Adapted by Verity Laughton

Directed by Scott Wright & Wesley Enoch

Venue: Riverside Theatres
Dates/Times: January 17-18, 20-21 at 7pm, January 18 at 3pm
Duration: 60mins
Tickets: $25
Bookings: Riverside Theatres 02 8839 3399 | Ticketek 1300 888 412

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