Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Dragon adapted from a play by Evgeny Schwarz - Malthouse Theatre

Dragon was written originally as a criticism of the cult of personality in Soviet Russia - and consequently suppressed. Like the original, the Malthouse version concerns a town, ruled over by a three-headed dragon who the locals dare not criticise - and even have come to love for the calm its rule appears to bring them - into which a knight called Lancelot comes one afternoon. Lancelot falls in love with the girl who is about to become the town's annual sacrifice to the dragon. He slays the dragon, to spare her, and then apparently dies himself. The Mayor of the town subsequently assumes all the powers and dictatorial characteristics of the dragon and things seem to return to their normal state of tyranny, before, at last, a happy ending.

The Malthouse production incorporates the musical comedy trio Tripod, who play both a sort of animal chorus - cat, dog and ass - not present in the original, and the three-headed dragon. They are hilarious and have written some very funny songs to accompany the play. Lancelot is performed with gusto. The sacrificial maiden is excellent.

Sadly, Kym Gyngell as the Mayor rather lets the side down with a pretty uninteresting performance, playing his character in the first half as a mild buffoon and in the second half as a person apoplectic with rage and paranoia.

His sinister sidekick looks very much like our new Treasurer, and I think there may be a halfhearted attempt going on to convey that Gyngell is Kevin Rudd - a lot of swearing is the main evidence for this, as Gyngell bears no physical resemblance to our Prime Minister and makes no effort to adopt any of his mannerisms, besides the bad language.

My sense is that the company's heart is not really in the business of attacking the ALP and that they would much prefer to be building some kind of analogy between the dragon, totalitarianism and the other side of Australian politics, perhaps incorporating Tony Abbott's celebrated 'budgie smugglers'  into the thing, somehow.

Despite these reservations and my impression that no-one involved knows or cares much about the real horrors of Stalinism, from which the play sprang originally, the Malthouse's Dragon is largely entertaining. The set is excellent and Tripod in particular make the evening worthwhile.

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