DRAGONS have a long and important place in Chinese culture, so it seems only fitting that the first co-production between theatre companies in Scotland and China takes the mythical beast as its inspiration and its title.
Yet Glasgow-based director Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds and writer Oliver Emanuel of Glasgow-based Vox Motus, first began working on the idea that would become Dragon three years ago, before any involvement with China.
"We had agreed a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and it so happened that they were in conversation with the Tianjin People’s Art Theatre in China," Harrison revealed.
"The Chinese got very excited about the idea of making a show about the dragon and Candice and I went over to China for two weeks on a really interesting research trip where we were really lucky to meet some experts in dragon culture and that had a huge impact."
While in the West dragons are seen as malevolent creatures in tales of dragon-layers like St George or Beowulf, in Asia they are seen as representing harmony, balance and control, and this aspect fed into the concept for the dragon befriended by bereaved and lonely teenager Tommy (Scott Miller).
As well as bringing back Chinese dragon concepts, the show also brings to Scotland two Chinese performers, Zhang Kai and Tao Yan, neither of whom speak any English.
"Candice and I were initially concerned about the fact that we don’t speak any Chinese and they don’t speak any English, but we’ve had an interpreter in the room with us all the time," Harrison added.
"It’s funny — because it’s a show that doesn’t use any words, we’ve developed a rehearsal room system of being able to communicate without speaking to each other and that happened quite quickly."
The decision not to have any dialogue in the play was taken early on in the creative process, partly because, as Vox Motus is well known for its strong visual style, because Harrison and Edmunds wanted to tackle a purely visual piece, but also because it seemed to fit with the theme of the play.
"We realised that silence in the show was a great metaphor for Tommy not being able to communicate with the people around him," Harrison explained.
The lack of dialogue also means that the show is easy to take overseas, including China.
However, though there are no words, the show is far from silent thanks to a score from Tim Phillips, who also wrote the music for Channel 4’s Shameless.
"We brought him into the process really early, even before the first drafts of the script were finished because we knew that the music was going to be a driving force," Harrison explained.
"The piece has evolved organically between the writing, the design and the music. Sometimes the writing has inspired the music, sometimes the music has inspired the design and the writing. It’s been a really cohesive and exciting projet to work on."
Helping Harrison produce the scary and scaly title star, who comes in various sizes, is designer and puppet maker Guy Bishop.
"We decided that we didn’t want to conform to the shape and form of either western or eastern dragons, so we have created a dragon that morphs from one thing to the next throughout the show, depending on the state of mind of the character," Harrison added.
In addition to being the first Scottish-Chinese co=production, Dragon is also breaking new ground at Eden Court with the first live "relaxed performance" making it accessible for theatre goers with autism.
"The audience meet the characters and the dragons before the show and some of the more energetic sequences are being toned down," Harrison explained.
"We are really pleased to be doing that as well and we have some experts giving us advice on how to make it more accessible to people with autism."
In addition to working with his own company on Dragon, Harrison was also recruited by film and theatre director Sam Mendes, fresh from his record-breaking success wit the Bond film Skyfall, to be the puppet and illusion designer on his West End version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
"Everyone else on the production seemed to have an Olivier or an Oscar, but at the end of the day it was a group of people working together to make a piece of theatre as good as it can be," Harrison said.
"The only difference was that it was a lot bigger and a lot more expensive. It was great experience and I learned a lot, but working for Vox Motus is what I really love doing."
Looking to the future, Vox Motus is also planning a literary adaptation of its own as it tackles H.G. Wells’s science-fiction classic The Time Machine.
"It’s going to be very different from anything we have done before and it’s probably going to be a one-man show," Harrison added.
"When I say a one-man show, I mean one man on stage — and 600 behind the scenes making sure everything works."
• Dragon, written by Oliver Emanuel and conceived by Jamie Harrison, Oliver Emanuel and Candice Edmunds, is at Eden Court Theatre from Tuesday 22nd to Saturday 26th October with evening performances at 7pm and matinees on Thursday at 1.30pm and Saturday 26th October at 2pm.
There will a special relaxed performance on Wednesday at 7pm.