National Theatre Of Scotland, Vox Motus and Tianjin People's Art Theatre, China
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SO — a play without words that’s built around the subject of a teenager’s grief for his lost mum.
Heavy going? Worthy but dull, perhaps?
Not a bit of it.
If you’ve been impressed by the elegant choeography of Strictly Come Dancing’s professionals on TV every Saturday night, check out the slick moves put together in this joint production by Vox Motus and Tianjin People’s Art Theatre, China.
Barely a moment passes without some movement on a stage set that is in a constant state of flux, now a kitchen, seconds later a bedroom, a hospital ward and then a swimming pool. It’s visually captivating, never staying the same long enough to even entertain thoughts of boredom. The cast’s clockwork choreography is all the more remarkable given that two of them — Zhang Kai and Tao Yan — don’t speak any English (and the rest have no Chinese!)
Tommy (Scott Miller) can’t sleep. He hasn’t been able to since his mum died a year ago.
Since then, life has gone from bad to worse. His dad (Martin McCormick) is grief-stricken, almost unable to function. His big sister (Joanne McGuiness) ignores him and he’s become the target for the school bully. He’s confused, lonely and increasingly angry.
Until, one restless night, Tommy goes to the window, throws back the curtain and comes face to face with a dragon looking him straight in the eye.
The dragon of the title takes several different forms throughout the production, represented by a succession of puppets which at times hold a barely concealed menace and at others a chance of redemption. A number of Tommy’s encounters wth the dragon are profoundly moving, not least a beautiful rooftop scene that is stunningly realised.
While there are no words, the stage set works beautifully from a beautifully-simple scooter to the thunderclouds which amplify the tension building in Tommy’s life.
While (almost) wordless, the story is also propelled by an often epic score by Tim Phillips, who was responsible for the music in Channel 4’s Shameless.
The play is aimed at “adults, teenagers and children with vivid imaginations”. For the record, my seven-year-old was pretty much captivated from start to finish. If children are involved in your theatre-going plans, you may find it beneficial to give them a brief overview of what it’s about beforehand and then just let those vivid imaginations do their thing…
Dragon had its genisis more than three years ago when director Jamie Harrison, Candice Edmunds and writer Oliver Emanuel of Glasgow-based Vox Motus first began working on the idea. The absence of words, oddly enough, may just prove to be the masterstroke as it means no limits where it can be taken.
Plans to bring it to China are, apparently, well advanced. Before then, you can catch it at Eden Court until Saturday, October 26.