We are in Adolescent Country where our hero Ben is harassed on all sides by the usual suspects: threatening bullies, selfish sibling, over attentive would-be girlfriend and dying or dead drunk parents (there’s even a wicked stepmother igure). He’s mad as hell but can’t express it and in his fevered state he begins to imagine the lamppost outside his bedroom window is turning Transformers-like into a flaming-eyed dragon. Or maybe it’s a real dragon.
All of this is performed by an energetic cast using no words – there’s a terrific Philip Glass inspired score by Tim Phillips – yet this isn’t dance, mime or even physical theatre. Sometimes it resembles EastEnders with the sound turned down. Where Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds’s piece comes truly alive is when things unexpectedly turn into the dragon: a rooftop turret for example unfolds and flies Ben away. These scenes are spectacularly and deliriously realised. The puppeteers’ manipulation of the creature is reminiscent of the effects used in the stage version of War Horse.
Throughout, the dragon gets larger and more realistic until finally it’s like a Jurassic Park escapee. The beast is as much a symbol of Ben’s fear and anger as it is his saviour and BFF. Nothing (except the fact that a teenager’s lot is never a happy one) is spelled-out explicitly and it’s this refreshing ambiguity that allows the audience (it’s recommended for nine-year-olds and up) to work out the dark riddle for themselves.
Despite reservations about the scenes of the boy’s home life, this welcome revival of the award-winning Dragon has some blithe moments of sheer magic. This is a coproduction between the Glasgow-based Vox Motos, the National Theatre of Scotland and the Tianjin Children’s Art Theatre (in China the Dragon is a symbol of balance, wisdom and harmony).