Tim O’Connor writes wonderfully lucid Director’s Notes, and a good thing too, because I have always found The Neverending Story utterly confusing. My memories of the 1984 film are of a leather-bound book, a rock-eating mountain and a flying dog (sorry, luck dragon). There may also have been a mulleted David Bowie singing in a maze … or was that Labyrinth? It’s fair to say I’m not a die-hard fan.
So as my little girl and I sat in the foyer on opening night, flicking through the programme of Tim O’Connor’s re-envisioning of Michael Ende’s fantasy novel, The Neverending Story (1979), I read her the story blurb slowly (nothing wrong with being prepared I thought) and, as we walked into the wonderfully intimate Cremorne Theatre, I was confident she would know what was going on. After all, she’s infinitely smarter than I was at six, and loves a good yarn.
Well, by half way through it became clear that the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree; she didn’t have a clue. This is not the type of show where you can break your concentration to unwrap your lollipop. I’m still answering questions two days later – having to explain both the plot and the higher order concepts at work.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely, lovely idea that a child’s imagination can save an entire world from being eaten up by despair. It’s just that, in the telling of it, you meet so many fantastical characters (whose names you can’t pronounce) and your quest takes so many strange twists and turns as you traverse the vast Fantasia, that it can be easy to get a little bit lost. Especially if you’re six. Or thirty.
That’s not to say she didn’t have a marvellous time. It was, after all, a feast for the eyes and the ears.
The set, costume and lighting design are the first things that hit you, and keep on hitting you. Josh McIntosh (set and costume) and Jason Glenwright (lighting) are tours de force and this is some of their best work. The set was absolutely magical and the costumes fantastical. Both were lit with ingenuity.
Imaginatively directed by Tim O’Connor, there were surprises at every turn as Fantasia came alive with enormous spiders, vicious wolf-men, adorably eccentric gnomes and mammoth worms, to name a few! The puppets were cleverly made and, for the most part, well-handled. Characters popped out of walls, got stuck in webs, glowed in ultra-violet light, and disappeared through the floor, eliciting gasps and giggles of surprise from children scattered throughout the opening night crowd.
A cast of fifteen actors of varying experience brought to life a total of twenty-one characters. Dan Venz (Atreyu) played the hero with wonderful warmth and a natural, earthy charm. David Lawrence was sweet as the innocent Bastian, as was Erika Naddei’s Childlike Empress.
My two favourite characters were played by the one actor – the enormously talented Dan Crestani. His portrayal of Atreyu’s trusty steed, Artax, was superb. For those who want to see some truly astounding horse acting – you’ll find it here! Artax’s death as he succumbed to the swamps of sadness was really quite heartbreaking.
Mr Crestani also gave us the most ridiculous Engywook, a gnome who, along with his significant other, Urgl (Cameron Whitten), produced a synergy of breathtaking absurdity that was a delight to watch.
Anthony Standish played Falkor with a commanding voice, a lazy sweetness, and a squeamishly blue tongue (incidentally – he’s not a big flying dog, but a ‘luck dragon’ – who knew?).
Maitlohn Drew’s arrangements of the original music from the film by Klaus Doldinger took me back to my childhood, and were beautifully played by Amanda Tio (double bass) Sunkyoung Kim (violin) and Naomi Otto (violin). His original pieces blended seamlessly and captured the spirit of the piece.
The voice work in a tale like this has to be absolutely faultless, and less experienced voices were occasionally difficult to hear and understand. At times the script, particularly in moments of realism, felt a touch stilted and generally its syntax and vocabulary will be difficult to understand for younger punters. The fight scene between Atreyu and our menacing villain Gmork (Ron Kelly) could have been played out with more abandon, but was well choreographed by Niki-J Price.
Fans of the film or the book shouldn’t miss this adaptation. It’s obviously been directed with love and respect for the original tale, and it works as a piece of theatre. And for those of you who are wondering how they going to make that dog (sorry, luck dragon) fly? As Mr O’Connor quite aptly points out in his Director’s Notes, this isn’t ‘The Neverending Story – The Arena Spectacular,’ so you’ll need to use your imagination kiddies!
The Neverending Story is playing at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC until May 12.
Cast also includes:
Casey McCollow (Gluckuk/Ygramul)
Dana Musil (Cairon/Morla)
Cassie Dormer (Yikka)
Lauren Heidecker (Hykrion)
Morgan Kempster (Hydorn)
Danny Lazar (Hynreck)
Ebony McGeady (Hysbald)
Cameron Rollo (Illwan/Rockchewer)