By Danielle Farrow
Against a silhouetted backdrop of a city’s night skyline, with fluffy clouds above ready to mutate with the thunder and lightning of storms, the imagination of youth, grief, anger and despair soar on stage, encapsulated in humour, connectedness and joyful playfulness. Beautifully realised and handled puppetry, that includes the very placing of set and props, brings not only a colourfully changing, growing dragon to life, but also many aspects of day-to-day living for Tommy, a teenager struggling after the death of his mother.
There are no need for words in the telling of Tommy’s story, everything is clear in its physical acting out, which delights in the creation of tiny, non-verbal but highly speaking moments, from the agony of attempting to aid an unreachable, despairing father to the comedic awkwardness of teen interaction between sexes. Via Jamie Harrison’s design (in conjunction with Guy Bishop for puppetry), whether it is the smooth turning of a door, the quick assemblage of a bike from barely any parts, the cleverly simple appearance of shopping in Tommy’s hands or the construction of a swimming pool, the creation of this world is masterly and its visibility is part of the entertainment.
Lighting and sound (designed by Simon Wilkinson & Mark Melville respectively) cleverly transform and enhance scenes, while Tim Phillips’ compositions weave eastern influences increasingly into atmospheric western music as the serpentine dragon gains in strength. The cast, playing characters and manipulating set and puppets, is very strong as an ensemble and delivers equally well scenes of imaginative comedy, poignant loss and actual wonder, under Jamie Harrison’s and Candice Edmunds’ clear and inspired direction, even if there is a slight sense that the piece could be shorter.
The malleable dragon, varying in material and character (including whimsical, sardonic, waspish and threatening), is an aspect of Tommy which aids and then controls him, and the relationship between them includes moments of rare communion. The behaviours and lessons threading through the story are universally recognisable and, though there can be a slight end feel of happiness being reduced to coupledom, running through it all is a real sense of the importance of communication in dealing with life, with others and with oneself: the need to be able to acknowledge and express what lies within, and to not only to be able to reach out and touch, but also to be touched and actually reached. Often, in life, people are in different places that obstruct such communion, but striving for it and the release of its realisation are critical to living, and all of this Dragon explores delightfully in detailed observances and great underlying understanding.
Dragon – written by Oliver Emanuel and presented by Vox Motus, the National Theatre of Scotland and Tianjin People’s Arts Theatre – is a highly accomplished, entertaining, emotionally satisfying and really quite magical production.
Recommended for 9+ years | The show is completely accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audiences.