"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Monday, November 13, 2017
SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON
GEORGE AND THE DRAGON
The National Theatre at the Olivier
Mullarkey’s new play is an enjoyably
old-fashioned affair. And not only the opening scene [it’s really a
three-act play] which is done in cod-Chaucerian verse. The last
third, after the interval, is set in the present day, but agreeably
free of expletives.
an ambitious exploration of the legend of St George, and the cross
which was his symbol but now has a multitude of meanings.
comes home to an England he remembers as an Eden, a perfect isle. “A
Knight there was ...” the tale begins, as he descends through the
stalls, a messianic figure in a flowing robe and his “sunrise
russet” locks. But he finds England much changed, darker, more
dismal, ruled by a traditional dragon.
hero, a naive, likeable dragon-slayer, with moments of self-doubt,
moments of epic bombast, is engagingly
by John Heffernan, bringing out the quiet humour of the writing. His
much a pantomime villain,
at least in his first incarnation, is done with evident relish by
are quickly introduced to the villagers, medieval types named for
their trades. As with Blackadder, they crop up again in the second
part, set in the Industrial Revolution,
with the Dragon in a giant capitalist top hat. And again in the 21st
century, when tower blocks have obliterated the town which replaced
fine performances, from Gawn Granger as the old man, Jason Barnett as
the Crier [“Oyez...”], Joe
Caffrey as Smith, Jeff
Rawle as Brewer the inn-keeper. The Dragon’s henchman, or
aide-de-camp, a complex character, key to the story’s development,
is Richard Goulding. And the Saint’s love interest – the old
man’s daughter –
is given a memorable performance by Amaka Okafor. And the boy,
another key character, was confidently played,
when I saw it, by Reuel Guzman.
Turner pulls out all the stops to do justice to the epic scale of the
story. The aerial battle with the triple-headed dragon is a powerful
blend of narration, reaction and old-fashioned special effects as the
heads crash and burn in a most spectacular fashion. Rae
Smith’s design – a Ravilious landscape, with a model
village/town/city built on it, and a kitchen for each era – is
perfect for the piece, which seems very much at home in the spacious
are left to ponder
what the play is about. The dragon, by the end, is no longer a foe to
be challenged, but the enemy within each one of us. The England that
has appropriated the noble flag is a selfish, soul-less place, hen
parties and football in the pub. Elsa, now a teacher, finds herself
crying on the bus.
playwright deliberately does not set it in England, though it’s a
very close match - “an island much like our own”. It’s
not a state-of-the-nation play, though the programme reflects on our
national identity, on heroes [and villains] and our need for stories.
And this is a fairy tale, a myth – as George, completely adrift in
the present day, says,“I am a legend.”
would be unkind to reveal the ending, but it is sufficiently
ambiguous to allow for optimism or despair as we wonder whether the
dragon can ever be defeated.