On Sunday 29th April, Tim O’Connor and Harvest Rain Theatre made history and put Brisbane on the cultural map, with the World Premiere stage adaption of The Neverending Story.
Many of us will remember watching the 1984 iconic fantasy film production which was based Michael Ende’s 1979 German fantasy novel, about a school boy, Bastian, hiding from bullies in a book store, and “borrowing” a magical book called The Neverending Story. While reading the story, Bastian becomes entwined in the adventure quest of Atreyu to save the land Fantasia and its many wonderous creatures from being engulfed by “The Nothing”.
To adapt such an epic and fantastical story to the stage is a seriously ambitious project in which Tim O’Connor, CEO and artistic director of Harvest Rain Theatre Company, and his production team should be applauded with standing ovations and a swag of awards. It is no wonder this extremely talented man has just been nominated for Brisbane’s Person of the Year. What Tim has done for the development of talent and culture in Brisbane is to be acknowledged and commended.
The beautiful costuming, puppetry, and spectacular set design by Josh Macintosh which encapsulates the real world of Bastian reading away in an attic, and the enchanting world of Fantasia (at the same time), is exquisite. The surprise framing of the proscenium arch is a particular design highlight. Adding to the high production values is Jason Glenwright’s effective lighting design and the atmospheric soundscape in which Maitlohn Drew re-orchestrated the original music from the film for a string quartet.
With only three weeks to prepare for this epic tale, the talented cast brought this story to life with fully developed imaginative characters, although the heavy reliance on narration did not allow the full use of their emotional investment. It’s a small point really as there was so much going on in a short space of time, the narrative style was necessary.
Bastian played by David Lawrence, was sincere and natural in his delivery of the awkward school boy, bookworm, and part-narrator.
Dan Venz was perfect for the role of Atreyu, in which he played the adventure warrior with strength and integrity and held the stage with his charisma and physical presence.
Dan Crestani’s portrayal of the gnome Engywook, along with Cameron Whitten’s counter-gnome Urgl was outrageously and provided some much needed relief from the dark foreboding tale. Dan also did some great physical character work portraying Atreyu’s loyal horse Artax.
The only character I wasn’t too sure of was Falkor the luckdragon (and it seems I’m the only one). Although I loved the reflective costume design and white dredlocks, I just didn’t equate him with the overwhelmingly big fluffy dog (ahem, dragon), which was so iconic in the movie.
The Greek chorus in their centurion outfits did a stellar job in supporting the story with their narration and physical help with the puppetry and sets to keep the story flowing smoothly. The only criticism here was that a little more vocal work was needed to keep the integrity of the high production quality.
Ron Kelly’s menacing wolf Gmork proposes the question of whether this production needs a viewer guidance rating. Judging by the eight year old beside me who was hiding in my shoulder with hands on her ears singing “la la la” while the well choreographed fight scene by Niki-J Price was taking place, prompted the valid parenting question. Having said that, she LOVED the rest of the show and so did the adult sitting next to her.
Harvest Rain’s world premiere of The NeverEnding Story stage adaptation is just magical – full of enchanting characters, imaginative staging and spectacular production values.