Dragon (Citizens Theatre, Glasgow)

This review was first published at TVBomb on 6 October 2015.

On the sad, sad day in which we find ourselves bereft of one of our language’s finest wordsmiths, it seems poignant that Dragon is a production of very few words indeed. Teenage protagonist Tommy has had a tough year: he has lost his mother, is getting bullied at school, and suffers the stifling female attentions of a similarly socially awkward classmate. As though struck mute by the weight of grief and general teenage angst, Tommy begins to see dragons; initially innocuous, emerging from the cityscape, but becoming increasingly more persuasive and domineering. Puppetry, illusion, and physical theatre are weaved together in the second outing of this production, conceived by Jamie Harrison, Oliver Emmanuel, and Candice Edmunds as a co-production between Vox Motus, the National Theatre of Scotland and Tianjin People’s Arts Theatre.

The theatricality of Dragon is laid bare for all to see – there is no hidden magic, no-one pulling the ropes behind the scenes, no “how the bloody hell did they do that”. The actors themselves operate all of the intricate puppets, and manipulate the dynamic, ever evolving set. As a production that proclaims itself to be ‘a show for adults, teenagers and children with vivid imaginations’, perhaps this creates a bit of a problem – the show is asking you to buy in to the classic ‘suspension of disbelief’ that goes alongside traditional theatregoing, but is also showing you quite explicitly how it is put together – so where does imagination slot in to this? Perhaps this is overanalysing something honest, clawing for flaws in something innocent. Perhaps for adults the imagination required is not to believe in the physical manifestation of dragons, but to empathise with the weight of grief being shouldered by an otherwise irritatingly sullen teenager.

Regardless, it’s difficult to fling any more praise at this production; it has been highly lauded here, there, and then back here again. It embodies one of those great moments where both adults and children alike feel the story is speaking only to them, akin to the darkest and juiciest of Roald Dahl stories.  I must respectfully disagree with my fellow TV Bomb critic’s reservations regarding the ‘domestic’ scenes, mainly concerning the boy’s father and his bleak wanderings through the madness of grief; far from being tropes worthy of prime-time BBC1, these are in fact acutely realised moments of stillness, full of understanding and connection, yet without a word uttered. That is the gold upon which Vox Motus have struck: the ability to say everything without saying anything. A joyous thing.

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Theatre Review: Ano Nedoslov (Citizens Theatre, Glasgow)

This review was originally featured in an edited form at TVBomb on 28 September 2015.

 

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no idea what this was about, for two reasons. One, the performance was entirely signed, with no translation. Two, when they occasionally spoke, it was in Russian, again with no translation. So that’s two layers of disconnect to negotiate, and that’s without entering into the ethical discourse of reviewing a piece that you cannot fully make sense of. However, event organisers Solar Bear are absolutely clear that Progression 2015, the encompassing festival celebrating international deaf arts, be fully accessible to those both deaf and hearing, so I’ve decided to stop agonising and hand-wringing over the moral intricacies and to just write the damn review.

The Nedoslov Theatre Company are an internationally renowned group of deaf and hard of hearing actors and dancers from Moscow. Unlocked Freedom, the first of the two short pieces they present, is a bit overwhelmingly Russian, with an excess of gaudy floral skirt swooshing, scarf waving, and some twiddly folk music. Granted, the dialogue (and consequently, plot) was lost on me, but there was enough there to piece together some sort of love triangle, and a good old-fashioned tragic, stabby ending. Taken as a whole, it was all a bit too much; it felt strangely like the kind of thing that would be drawn up in a nicotine stained B-movie writers’ room when the director asks for something quintessentially Russian which accidentally ends up embodying the exact opposite, something that feels like it was borne of a back street souvenir shop.

The second piece, No Rights to Have an Angel, offers something wholly different, more challenging, and infinitely more subtle. With very little narrative, this charming movement-based piece explores what it means to be an artist, and perhaps also nods towards the difficulties of being an artist in Russia today, particularly one who operates outwith the boundaries of conventional theatre practice as Nedoslov do. Occasionally it relapsed into some slightly anachronistic choreographed set piece dance routines, but it also offered some genuinely beautiful moments, such as the ethereal snowdrifts of plastic bags being wafted around the stage, or the perfectly constructed tableaus that tell a whole story in the slight movement of a hand. Nedoslov are at their absolute best when they are focussed and precise.

Perhaps some of the ‘theatreness’ of the theatre event is lost in the lack of translation, but what is important is the event itself, and the impact that it has not only amongst the deaf community, but the ripples it creates amongst the wider artistic community too.  Solar Bear are a company that consistently nudge boundaries, and it is to their immense credit that such a diverse and inclusive festival can happen in the first place.