JOYCE MCMILLAN on DRAGON at the Citizens’ Theatre Glasgow for The Scotsman 16.10.13
4 stars ****
DEALING WITH GRIEF is an important subject for children’s theatre at the moment, perhaps because adults tended for so long to deny that children can feel grief and loss as deeply as grown-ups do. It’s unlikely, though, that audiences in Scotland will ever see a more beautiful, thoughtful and fiercely theatrical treatment of the theme than Oliver Emanuel’s new play-without-words Dragon, co-produced by the National Theatre Of Scotland with Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds of the Glasgow-based company Vox Motus, and with the Tianjin People’s Art Theatre of China.
Set on a stage shadowed by magical, reflecting clouds, against shadowy backdrops that often hint at a Glasgow streetscape, the story revolves around the figure of Tommy, perfectly played by Scott Miller, a 15-year-old boy whose family is falling apart following his mother’s death. Wordless action in theatre often leads to simplistic storytelling, or a kind of bland internationalism; but here, driven along by Tim Phillips’s orchestral suite of a recorded score, it becomes a perfect metaphor for the grief-stricken silence between Tommy and his father and sister, as the yawning gap in his life is filled by a dragon-figure that gradually grows from a playful, bedroom-sized companion to a raging black-and-gold monster, driving Tommy to frightening acts of aggression.
It all ends well, in a vital moment of reconciliation between Tommy and his Dad. And despite the occasional sequence where the show’s endless movement of objects, sets and dragon puppets – by black-clad members of the 7-strong cast – seems clumsy and over-insistent, in the end it’s difficult to resist the elegance of the show’s 80-minute narrative curve, the emotional subtlety of the story it tells, and the sheer visual beauty and imagination of the telling, in a show that travels on to Inverness, Edinburgh and Manchester, and seems set for a long and rich international life.