Chasing Dragons

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Edie Livesey

at 15:40 on 17th Aug 2011

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Caught between the real world and his fantasies, schizophrenic novelist Edward Maris (Tom Walsh) struggles with imperfection. Shying away from real life difficulties, he embraces his condition. His hallucinations allow him to retreat into a fantasy world of his own creation, where he ought to be endowed with a God-like control. His fantasy turns out to be a mere reflection of reality, however, with flaws of its own. Meanwhile his sister Jane (Becky Catlin), recently returned from sixteen years of missionary work in Rwanda, faces a similar problem. Like Edward she wants to make things better, but she is removed from Rwanda – a ‘world’ falling apart – when trouble starts. Edward, on the other hand, who will not take his medication, remains with his fantasies. As his thoughts start to spiral out of control, he is forced to confront a dragon and to fight it single-handed.

Chasing Dragons is an imaginative piece of new writing by Nottingham University student Adam H. Wells. The play is fast-paced, credible and moving, though it suffers from being condensed into the hour-long slot. The comparison of religion and fantasy as a means of comfort is interesting, as is the comparison of the experiences of the two siblings. However, the line between actuality and fantasy is generally too sharply drawn. Edward asserts that both worlds are equally real, but the audience, though shown his hallucinations, cannot begin to blur the two. The distinction becomes a little subtler towards the very end, when the witch (Laura Thomson) starts to become more like the sister. This could have been extended had the play been able to be longer.

The performance was in general very strong. Walsh was convincingly petulant as the novelist and his scene praying with Catlin was especially touching. Maris’ hero Underthorn (Ben Cave) was played with a bravado that reflected a less sensitive version of the author’s self. Maris’ interaction with his vision as it begins to work against him, particularly in the scene at the bridge, is endearing. Director Dan Rae-Scott does an excellent job here at ensuring the simultaneous credibility of both worlds.

The broader questions of this scene however, and of the piece as a whole, could be more fully explored. The vision appears to be of Jane’s imagining, as she reads her brother’s book, yet the hallucination is Edward’s. Are they somehow feeding off each other’s fantasies?

One of the best aspects of this production is the set and costumes. The characters are made highly credible in part by perfectly chosen outfits. The simple set allows for an imaginative space in which both worlds can co-exist. The puppetry at the end is highly effective.

The main problem is that, in comparison to the relative clarity of the relation between the real and the imaginary throughout the play, the ending is extremely mystical. The imaginary becomes a kind of metaphor for the actual. The audience is not quite ready for it and the progression towards it is rushed. However, this is in general an extremely well written and executed piece: well worth a view.

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Arabella Currie

at 09:23 on 18th Aug 2011

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A psychiatrist and a dragon, on stage, in front of our eyes and ears, and a knight and a witch and a praying sister, and at the centre of it all a writer who is getting lost in the worlds he has created. All wonderfully strange and unexpected, and genuinely thought-provoking. The only problem is that, like a psychiatrist, the play poses its questions somewhat clumsily, and, like a lumbering dragon, is lacking in subtlety. There is a feeling that the play is buckling under the amount that it wants to communicate, and as a result the writing hammers home its message with a sort of desperate urgency. We want it to slow down, to worry less that we won’t understand or think the right thoughts. And when it does slow, when it lets its message be explored gradually rather than taken in all at once, this is an exciting play. The moment when the sick man’s sister reveals to him the horrors she witnessed in Rwanda is beautifully written and beautifully delivered. Ideas are suggested and we are left to think for ourselves.

The idea is that all worlds are imperfect. The writer retreats into his creation because a self-created world is one he can control, and then is horrified when control slips and cracks appear in his imagined perfection. Meanwhile we see the cracks in our own reality, through the eyes of the shell-shocked sister. But is this reality he is retreating from? And is his Christian sister similarly slipping into a false and unrealised imagination, closing her eyes to see God in just the same way as the writer closes his eyes for dragons and witches? All interesting questions, and important ones. And perfectly suited to the theatrical genre, in which something unreal becomes automatically real as it exists before our eyes. The knight and the dragon are, on a stage, just as substantial as the psychiatrist and the sister. But we do not need to be told this in stark black and white, in unrelenting language. The deep thought that is so clearly behind this play should be left to speak for itself, to slip into our minds like the witches and the dragons who slowly and slyly disturb this troubled man.

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