First published in The Times, Wednesday August 19 2015
Dragons are everywhere in popular culture at present, but the emotional landscape depicted in this Scottish/Chinese co-production is worlds away from the high fantasy territory of Tolkien or Game of Thrones. Oliver Emanuel’s play for ages nine and upwards, staged by the Glasgow-based company Vox Motus in association with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Tianjin People’s Art Theatre of China, features the sense of adventure, pace and visual humour you expect from the best popular entertainment. Yet, in its depiction of the grief suffered by a young boy at the death of his mother, it is remarkably unflinching.
The action of Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds’s production is delivered almost entirely without words, with the storytelling accomplished through an eloquent fusion of simple props, puppetry and meticulous lighting design from Simon Wilkinson as well as precision performances from the seven-strong ensemble.
Pic: Peter Dibdin
Scott Miller is heartbreaking as 15-year-old Tommy, the unexploded bomb at the heart of a family struck dumb by bereavement. With his father (Martin McCormick) unable to get out of his dressing gown and his sister (Joanne McGuinness) taking refuge in her mobile phone, Tommy’s anger manifests itself in the form of a fire-breathing creature that – in the beginning at least – proves faithful and true. The title character takes on many startling forms in the course of the play’s 75 minutes, from silver phantom to sinuous mechanical beast and the final, immense cloth-and-stick incarnation. Each one is deftly and discreetly manipulated by the actors.
While kids will find much to enjoy in Harrison and Guy Bishop’s characterful puppets, the clever visual gags and the action-packed story, older children and adults will more fully appreciate the slickness of the interplay between the human characters and technology and the spot-on depiction of lonely adolescence, including affecting and sometimes surprisingly tough of scenes of school bullying and hesitant first love.