Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Dragon, July 3, 2013 **1/2

By Evgeny Shwarz, adapted by Toby Schmitz, Music and Lyrics by Tripod,
By Malthouse Theatre 
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, July 3 to July 26, 2013 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 3
Stars: **1/2
Review also published  in print in Herald Sun on Sunday July 7, 2013 and online thereafter. KH
 Jimi Bani, Tyler Coppin & Nikki Shiels

Picture a beer-loving hero, a distressed damsel, a despotic dragon and cowardly villagers, all in a pastiche of fairy tale, panto and cabaret, and you have The Dragon.

The brave knight, Lancelot (Jimi Bani), arrives to challenge and kill the three-headed Dragon, save the damsel, Elsa (Nikki Shiels), and free the village, but discovers that the townspeople prefer the status quo and appeasing the Dragon to maintain peace.

Toby Schmitz’s script adaptation of Evgeny Shwarz’s 1944 play playfully updates characters and dialogue to contemporary Australia and, in the dialogue, we can hear Schmitz’s own idiosyncratic comic performance style and syntax.

Marion Potts’ production falters with uneven performances, a lack of dynamic range, awkward scene changes as the stage rotates, slow cueing, and too little comic physicality to compensate for the wordy text.

With such comic book dialogue, the characters need to be broad caricatures or clowns, and there are a few actors who really hit the tone and style.

Kim Gyngell steals the show with his achingly funny portrayal of the Mayor, a scathing parody of an incompetent, petty power figure, who bellows, blunders, blusters and fawns to the Dragon. His final speech as the fake Dragonslayer is a riot.
 Nikki Shiels & Kim Gyngell

Comic musical trio, Tripod (Scott Edgar, Steven Gates, Simon Hall), are like a wacky Greek Chorus, provide connecting glue for the scenes with some light but entertaining songs and commentary.

They also play the three-headed Dragon, which has some successful moments, but the tyrant lacks menace in most of the scenes and we are cheated of a big, choreographed fight when Lancelot slays them.

Bani is charmingly oafish as Lancelot, but his comic delivery lacks variation and precision, and he seems to be pushing vocally, except in his more successful dramatic speeches.

Shiels is feisty as Elsa but sometimes looks a little uncomfortable or constrained, Josh Price depicts a range of amusing clown servants, while Tyler Coppin and John Leary play other comic characters capably.

The revolving design (Anna Tregloan) incorporates a grassy, terraced hillside, a toy train and tiny houses to represent the oppressed village, but it constrains the actors’ movement.

To Australians, The Dragon may not look like a dangerously subversive, political satire, but it was for Shwarz in Russia in 1944, who disguised his criticism of oppression as a fairy tale parable with the Dragon representing an oppressive regime.

The play loses its edge when set against the background of a tepid democracy such as ours.

While Potts’ production has some high points and Schmitz’s script is good-humoured albeit unchallenging, the show feels slow and laboured, the script needs editing, the political satire craves sharpening and the comedy could be more physical.

By Kate Herbert

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