Pros: Inventive writing with a clever and daring use of structure. Many diverse strands come together to provide a rich and engaging story.
Cons: The actors struggled to meet the punishing demands of having to convey multiple and divergent personalities.
Roland Schimmelpfennig’s distinctive and experimental The Golden Dragon deals with the desperate circumstances and tragic consequences that result from the confinement and exploitation of illegal immigrant workers. Focusing on the crisis of a Chinese kitchen-aid with an unbearable toothache, the writing is clever, inventive, and demanding for both the actors and the audience. Under Liutkute’s and Brocklehurst’s direction, five actors self-consciously tell what is ultimately a simple story of woe within a complex yet revealing structure. Comprised of over 40 mini-scenes that switch back and forth through a series of interlinked situations, this 90-minute feast-fest speeds furiously and chaotically to the end.
Most of the scenes take place in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant that could be in any city of the western world (I imagine most of us have chanced upon a restaurant called The Golden Dragon!). The other situations unfold in an adjacent shop and surrounding apartments, before moving ominously to a nearby bridge. We even travel all the way to China, and, most impressively, to the fabled space of an ant and a cricket that becomes all too menacingly real. The production uses all sorts of welcome tricks with the lighting, props and staging to keep it from feeling too repetitive as you return to what soon become familiar settings that inch the story along in subtle and intriguing ways. The enjoyment is in trying to piece all these things together and finding out you care more about a character than you initially might think.
Unfortunately, the cast succumb at many points to the nearly insurmountable task of performing over a dozen roles, most of which are in contrast to their gender, age, culture and disposition. They also have to narrate their characters’ actions before or whilst performing as them, together with the annoying conceit of having to announce “short pause” every time a character became stumped. A play like this should really only be taken on by a group tight and deft enough to handle these demands, and sadly this group occasionally fell short of the mark. During the many absurd moments, I was not sure whether to laugh or empathise and often found myself not doing either. This compromised the potency that much of the play aims at; the tension between comedy and pathos that arises out of a situation where a character is simultaneously suffering yet doing something that forces you to laugh. I felt the rest of the audience wanted to laugh more but the cues weren’t there.
What you wish for and how it is tied in with the pain of others is the central theme. The dominant noise of the opening scene and plenty of others throughout is the fierce groans from the ‘young woman’ Asian man, in pain with no support, surrounded only by brutes. The tooth becomes a symbol of the dislocation between this man, his family (who appear in the most unlikely of places) and his freedom. And by implication, the characters you see here, both the abused and their abusers, could just as well be secretly inhabiting any of our very own favourite Chinese eats, as you sit ordering item number 6 off the menu. It’s also worth mentioning, if you have mild toothache or a fear of dentists, The Golden Dragon will add greatly to your afflictions!
Author: Roland Schimmelpfennig
Director: Elena Liutkute and Tom Brocklehurst
Box Office: 020 7835 2301
Booking Link: http://www.thedraytontheatre.co.uk/theatre-home/event-list/eventdetail/2893/126%7C65%7C111%7C11/the-golden-dragon
Booking Until: 1st February 2014