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Dragon Hearts - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)

Presented as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival. Created and performed by Bria McCarthy. Produced by Geneva Valek.

Reviewed by Chanele Mao

Riverside Theatres (Parramatta)

14th-15th September, 2023


- A moving production that makes you feel lighter and full of fantasy as you leave the theatre -

Bria McCarthy presents a moving, playful, fantastical and touching solo performance, Dragon Hearts, her new shadow puppetry show for adults and young people alike. The subject matter is dragons and how a close-knit friendship can develop between a young girl and the mythical beast.

The story opens with a young girl looking outside her bedroom window. It is night and the crescent moon is hoisted up amongst the twinkling stars. A Chinese dragon dances across the night sky. The audience has been transported into a different world and we are intrigued. Soon McCarthy’s love affair with dragons and mythology will collide and take us on a kaleidoscopic journey into ancient history, Greek mythology, fables, and art.

There are seven chapters to Dragon Hearts. McCarthy plays the young girl cowering to the mighty dragon at the start of the story, which shows the size and status disparity between a human being and a glorious beast. She convincingly acts with fear and astonishment towards this gentle giant.

Dragon Hearts at Sydney and Melbourne Fringe Festival. Images Credit: Geneva Valek.

My favourite chapter in Dragon Hearts is the one involving Maude/Maude. Maude is the name of the young girl and Maude is also the name of the dragon she befriends, raising it from birth. There are men who want to slay the dragon and prove their mettle but Maude, the dragon, is tough as nails. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is one where the audience gasps and “ahhhs”.

The music and sound effects are very well chosen and composed, which adds to the emotion, tension, tenderness, and sadness of the storyline. There is also a beautifully illustrated and produced booklet that goes with the play full of interesting backstories, notes, and pictures by McCarthy.

The set is simple, utilising a white screen like you would see in a movie theatre, but the images are made by an overhead projector with different transparencies to tell the story. It took me back to my high school days when my science teacher would use the overhead projector to project the class notes for us to copy.

There are whimsical touches to the set, a languid couch on one side with a stack of mythology books for your reading pleasure. You can’t help but think that McCarthy spent a lot of time dreaming, drawing, reading, and writing about her dragons.

You will leave the theatre a little lighter, with new life breathed into you.

McCarthy’s artwork, drawings and storytelling are all very engaging and full of emotion. I noticed that she had drawn a heart shape in her dragons, which shows that they may be feared as fire breathing beasts but are still warm blooded and needing companionship like humans. When she narrates near the end of her show, it adds another dimension to telling the story.

As I attended the Opening Night of the Sydney Fringe Festival at Parramatta Riverside Theatres, it was great to meet McCarthy (who is also featured as our September Artist of the Month) and the lovely, Geneva Valek (producer). There was a delightful smorgasbord of food and free flowing drinks, which was a highlight. The audience were also gifted a beautiful hand-made “dragons’ blood” soap with ginseng (heart), which was a nice touch.

Whether you like dragons or don’t care for them, you will leave the theatre a little lighter, with new life breathed into you and a renewed appreciation for shadow puppetry and the art of storytelling!


Dragon Hearts runs for about 40-45 minutes with no interval. You can also catch it at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, 3-22 October 2023.

Plan your Sydney Fringe this September by heading to their website for the extensive list of what's on offer. Visit:


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