Review – St George and the Dragon:
The National Theatre brings Rory Mullarkey’s new play Saint George and the Dragon to the Olivier stage. A reframing of age the age-old myth of a heroic knight, rescuing a fair maiden and slaying the evil dragon.
Lindsay Turner’s ambitious production, set in the north of England takes the audience on a journey in three parts. The first half comprises of a national pageant encompassing a bucolic fantasy of the Middle Ages and the horrors of industrialization, whereas the second half embraces the bitter and dissatisfied modern day Britain in what proves to feel rather confused narrative – is it patriotic polemic anti- Corby rant or is it anti-Brexit broadside?
The staging has more than a whiff of that of the London Olympics, designer Rae Smith’s imaginative interpretation represents a northern town with small grey model houses, which later transform into to tower blocks symbolizing the present day predicament and its bleak landscape. There are some attempts to break up the drab grey setting and to keep the audience on their toes with the creation of some spectacular moments with firecrackers and large flying dragon heads, albeit a bit pantomime.
Our dragon-slaying hero Saint George is played with a certain nonchalant wit and panache by Johan Heffernan as a Hugh Lauriesque (in Blackadder) upper-class, brave but naive fool, who on returning to his village after a series of failed missions, is called upon to rescue the savvy damsel in distress Elsa, played with remarkable gumption and style by Amaka Okafor. Gawn Grainger gives a terrific performance as Elsa’s cheerful father Charles. The dragon comes in the guise of black-clad, humpbacked cloaked villain (Julian Bleach), who represents all of society’s sins in the form of immorality, avarice and disillusionment.
Saint George proves to be a gallant hero and successfully slays the dragon, the villagers thereon look to their newfound unlikely hero. After each successful mission, George is called away only to return each time to an evolving world where the establishment is progressively transforming the villagers’ existence and George’s slaying methods are becoming increasingly ineffectual and he flounders to keep up.
The large cast (as is customary at the National) did Mullarkey’s script justice, which does in some respects offer a timely insight into our techno loving ever-transforming world in the midst of a political storm. There are some humorous moments; a particularly good scene down the pub, where Saint George joins the football crowd for the first time, overdoes it on the booze and lets the side down with his drunk and disorderly behaviour. However, the political insights and a scattering of gags are not enough to warrant its two hours and forty minutes, I left a little less than enamoured with this weary tale.
Saint George and the Dragon runs at the National Theatre at the Olivier until 2 December