After an exciting first night opening party of the Sydney Festival, full of aural gluttony, as sounds spilled onto the Sydney CBD and a rainbow of multiple choice adventures to be decided upon: I opted to start my festival experience with The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy written by Finegan Kruckemeyer.

Parramatta is the geographical centre of Sydney, and the beating heart of this year’s Sydney Festival experience for children, with 6 family friendly theatrical and musical experiences on offer at the Riverside Theatre.

With a request from the performers to have the children seated first, down the front on little roll-matt cushions, the bigger kids waited until they were settled before being admitted into the theatre and sitting on back-less wooden benches. All a part of the presentation of The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy. It’s quiet as the children whisper to each other, wriggling around cross legged on the mats in front… as we are waiting for the show to start and we watch the performer prepare: eating bits of cheese and reading an old book. It’s quiet. Very quiet. The show starts with three questions from the story teller: “Are you prepared to be saddened? Are you prepared for laughter are you prepared to be dazzled?”

The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy centres on the adventures of Cheeseboy, (who through rejecting the request of his parents via crossed fingers behind his back) survives a fatal meteor crash, and lands on earth, alone. It’s a lovely story of an orphan hoping for the return of his parents, in the tradition of Roald Dahl and complete with exquisite production values: projections, light, props, and puppetry.

A beautiful set…like that of Plato’s cave… a simple canopy above a patchwork of Persian rugs and a collection of brown trunks and suitcases concealing interesting compartments and other worlds, beautifully complimented by a surprising and clever lighting design (both by Geoff Cobham).Performers Stephen Sheehan and Sam Mc Mahon in true Brechtian tradition provide all you see on stage: projections, characterisations of those in the story including a backstage glipse of actors during a 90 second interval. It is a beautiful and well constructed piece of storytelling assisted by a haunting sound track by composer Quincy Grant and sound designer Nick O’Connor.

Director Andy Packer has done a mammoth job of pulling all aspects of this production together. It is visually stunning: no doubt about it. It is highly sophisticated theatre: no doubt about that either. But is this really a children’s show? Billed for Ages 8+, this show has also been billed at the Sydney Opera House for ages 10+ (and recommended for school years 5-10). The language is poetic and complex, and a little above the heads of the age group attending today (5-10 year olds). The story is very intense and brimming with philosophical lessons: when to break the rules and knowing when there is no one else, you can “hold your own hand.” It is at times quite sombre, quite soft, quite quiet.

Surrounded and supported by multimedia, the storyteller is sometimes reduced to a person who recites a story. The “character” of the storyteller is quite a neutral one… his direct addresses to the audience does not rely on responses, his personal opinions and viewpoints are not revealed and his character is not a driving force of the story. I was indeed, saddened by the content of the story, but unfortunately I did not laugh, in fact I would have found it insensitive to be laughing at such a unique and tender story, which is essentially about being alone in the world, and trying to figure out your place in it. I was however dazzled by the production values and delighted by the inventiveness of the props.

But if this is a show purely about the ancient art of storytelling, does there need to be so much technical support? I wonder how this story would present if it were made into a radio play? This is a dark yet sweet story full of inventive theatrical devices, and evocative themes of loss and freedom.