Image by Drew Farrell
“And there are dragons! Dragons everywhere. Not the gold-hoarding recluses of British folklore, but the sensuous, bewitching creatures of the Orient”
A play for older children and big-hearted grown-ups, Dragon is filled with beauty from its very first scene. A comforting kind of magic flows from its enchanting, nostalgic backdrop: searchlights pick out a city’s rooftops, while ghostly clouds hang in the moonlit sky. But this isn’t a Disney fairytale. Within seconds of the opening, we’re thrust into a hospital ward – and there we witness a young teenager, Tommy, bidding his dying mother goodbye.
A host of motifs come together in this stylish, inventive performance. Black-clad actors prowl the stage, wielding props which make up a dynamic and ever-changing set. At its best, the choreography is breathtaking; look out for the scenes at Tommy’s school, where he sits still in the centre of the stage and classroom after classroom appears around him. There’s plenty of humour, and there are elements of stage magic worked in too – props and even actors appear as if from nowhere, thanks to clever misdirection or ingenious tricks of the light.
And there are dragons! Dragons everywhere. Not the gold-hoarding recluses of British folklore, but the sensuous, bewitching creatures of the Orient, evoked here through a smattering of technical wizardry and a wealth of compelling puppetry. As the story rolls on, you’ll come to recognise what Tommy’s dragon represents, and you’ll notice it growing and changing over the course of the play. Sometimes it’s sinister, sometimes it’s as cute as a puppy, but towards the end it’s a monster… a terror to be fled, or faced down.
As befits a family-friendly show, Dragon’s plot is straightforward, and the emotions it plays on are big and simple ones. Unaccompanied grown-ups might wish it were a little more nuanced, but if you’ve taken the kids you’ll find plenty of important themes to talk through later. Tommy’s story encompasses loss, grief, anger and acceptance; along the way he discovers the importance of connecting with others, and learns that inner dragons always seem less scary when you bring yourself to face them head-on.
There’s very little spoken dialogue – which, incidentally, makes Dragon eminently accessible for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing – but the visual delight is accompanied by an atmospheric soundscape, lending tempo and portent to the action on stage. Being picky, the lighting wasn’t executed quite as flawlessly as the rest of the production, and the slow-mo fight sequences felt hackneyed at times. But the ending has a beguiling simplicity which complements that gorgeous opening, and there’s wonderment and poignancy in all that comes in between. A must-see show for children aged 9 and up, and for adults who remember how to play.
Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 30 October)