CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
Macbeth’s mind was, famously, full of scorpions. In the case of Tommy – Glaswegian teenager and protagonist of Oliver Emanuel’s new, wordless piece for Scottish touring company Vox Motus, the National Theatre of Scotland and Tianjin People’s Art Theatre of China – his psyche has conjured up a fire-breathing dragon.
The magical creature is Tommy’s response to a very difficult year which began with the death of his mother, and has culminated in his being bullied at school. The feelings of abandonment (Tommy’s sister and father are also buried deep in grief), powerlessness, fear and rage which dominate the boy’s life find expression in an imaginary animal which, by turns, comforts him, defends him, but, being an untamed dragon, also menaces him.
It is an effective and touching metaphor for an adolescent mind which is carrying too great a burden. The wordlessness of the piece further enhances Tommy’s sense of isolation, whether it be from his family, with whom communication seems impossible, or from the girl at school who tries to cheer him up with her magic tricks.
As ever with Vox Motus, the show is characterised, in visual terms, by an attractive and simple hyperrealism. There is a comic book quality to the colour-absorbing clouds which sit above Tommy’s Glasgow, which is a sort of cartoon Anytown.
The stars of the show, in design terms, are the various dragons themselves. The mythical beast comes in many guises, appearing to the teenager from within a street lamp, at school and at home. It always emanates, visually, from the immediate environment; so, the swimming pool dragon, for example, carries the red and white stripes of the safety ring from which it emerges.
Lovely though such elements are, there is one distinctly disappointing aspect to the show. Hitherto, Vox Motus’s signature has been its capacity, using good, old-fashioned stage trickery, to create all manner of illusions. Here there is no such elevation of stage magic over the spectacles of cinema and video game technology.
Very rarely is an image created without it being absolutely clear how it is being made and who is making it. One can’t help but feel that this dragon needs a little more wizardry.
At the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until October 19, then touring to Inverness, Edinburgh and Salford. For further information, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com.
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on October 18, 2013:
© Mark Brown