Review of 'Saint George and the Dragon'

National Theatre

saint_george.jpg https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/saint-george-and-the-dragon

I was not quite sure what to expect but I know it was not what we experienced.

The play begins with a despondent Saint George (John Heffeman) visiting a village under siege by a dragon. He has experience with another dragon who he previously failed to destroy but he is convinced he can conquer this one soon after falling for Ann Fielder (Suzanne Ahmet), the young daughter of the older Charles (Gawn Gainger) who also lives with an orphan (Reuel Guzmn/Lewin Lloyd). Ann is set to become the next meal for the dragon (Julian Bleach - in human form) unless George can win the support of the reluctant villagers and defeat the dragon in combat. After the battle George is called away by the “order”. Returning a year later the town has moved on and is now an industrial centre operated by the reincarnated Dragon. Ann is sentenced to hang after having stopped the machines to save a young boy who got caught in the device. Again George must convince the villagers to put their faith in him but he learns that the dragon can no longer be defeated by physical means so they must think of another way. In the final act another year passes, we are now in our modern times and the dragon is embedded in everyone, can he be defeated?

An incredible piece of theatre with some commanding performances by the leads. Heffeman as George is delightfully simple, lost and uncomfortable at what fate throws at him making you really feel for him. Ahmet is the cynical “maiden in distress” attracted to George yet continually surprised at his innocence. Bleach is spellbinding as the dragon with the right amount of menace and calm evil that is suited to the role. He is particularly challenged with the choreography that has him energetically darting throughout the stage (the final act is an impressive display as he takes on the guise of character after character in quick succession before our very eyes as he walks around the stage). I was particularly surprised to see Jeff Rawle as the Brewer who plays quite a commanding, leading role, as the conscience of the village. I remember him some time ago in “Drop the Dead Donkey” playing the long-suffering “George Dent” character.

The set consists of the town viewed from above with the houses stretching up into the distance towards the back of the stage. The front of the stage has a large turntable on which houses and small representations of ever-changing buildings are perched. Ingeniously, when rotated we see into a small room that often serves as Charles' house. The small buildings serve as small set elements themselves including as a prison and a pub. It is all quite simple looking but very effective. The choreography is particularly challenging in parts as the fairly large cast climb over the set as it rotates and changes around them.

Refreshingly the small orchestra providing incidental music to the play are in boxes on the sides of the auditorium to the left and right of the stage - Not hidden away but in full view throughout the show.

At just under three hours with a 20 minute interval this is not a short play but it does move quite quickly and keep the audience engaged throughout. The final act is really the killer blow delivering the true message of the piece and is by far the most nuanced. It is often funny but never really “laugh out loud” funny and certainly things get serious fairly often despite it's general light nature. It is quite an English play but nationalism is never really the primary focus.

An often fun but ultimately powerful piece about the dragon within us all.

Rating:

Review Date: 2017-12-01



Oliver Theatre

Location: London (England)

Address: South Bank, London, SE1 9PX ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Waterloo TUBE Embankment

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7452 3000

URL: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/your-visit/national-theatre-venues/olivier-theatre

The Olivier Theatre is a wonderful, intimate theatre on the top floor of the National Theatre complex on the south bank. The stage juts out into the theatre left with the stalls with wings (part of the stalls) on either side and a single balcony. There are bars and restaurants in the complex. Though slightly dated it is still a hive of activity and a centre of cultural life in the capital putting on an ever rotating schedule of plays, musicals and other shows.