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A CurtainUp London Review
The Golden Dragon
It didn’t start well with a casual reception in the Box Office at the Arcola’s temporary site (until the welcoming publicist arrived), no programme or text or even cast list and £4 for a 125ml glass of white wine. The venue too was uncomfortably hot. I took with me someone who had recently had extensive dental work - not a great choice in retrospect - with much of the play centring on a Chinese cook in a Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant with excruciating toothache and who cannot get hospital treatment because he is an illegal immigrant (Kathryn O’Reilly).
Slowly we realise that none of the five members of the cast are Asian and all are playing roles against type and age and sex. So Ann Firbank, a veteran actress, is a young girl with a flower in her hair, an old man with a cloth cap and a stick and the ant in the fable of the ant and the cricket. The men David Beames and Jack Tarlton are a pair of air stewardesses dining in the restaurant, sometimes they sport long wigs but mostly just the red striped kerchief. Adam Best is an old man who lives with his granddaughter and Kathryn O’Reilly plays half the disintegrating couple, the professional man in the striped shirt with Jack Tarlton in a red dress as his wife/girlfriend. Adam Best puts some shiny green trousers over his head and a headband with two silver antennae and becomes the hungry cricket whom the industrious ant treats badly. Despite the silliness of the costume, the story is serious and sad.
The emergency dental work entails the use of a bottle of vodka and a spanner, excruciating to watch for the dentist phobic. Much blood is spilt along with the vodka. Four rolls of banqueting paper form the backdrop and the playing area ready to be thrown away when sullied with stage blood, beer and ketchup. Deconstructed soap opera is what the publicity promised us and that is largely what we get. Will this play make us think about what it is that brings to our table "Number 6, Thai soup with chicken, coconut milk, Thai ginger, hot"? The illegal workforce, paid under minimum rates, the isolation of illegal immigrants? The menu items are repeated like some kind of litany, a homage to Oriental cuisine.
The actors work hard with these multiple roles and I suspect I would have picked more of the poetry of the piece with the benefit of the translation by David Tushingham because I have enjoyed Roland Schimmelpfennig’s work in the past. Of course the skill in writing this would be to make sure no young man ever plays a young man and that existing characters are free to interconnect, probably more fun to devise like a crossword puzzle than to solve. I particularly warmed to Kathryn O’Reilly’s boy with toothache, very well acted and a great physical performance. Would I pay £17 to see this? No I’d spend it on a meal in the Vietnamese on Lavender Hill!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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