Adam Wells, C Soco, Chasing Dragons, Children, Christianity, Dragon, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Edward Maris, Faith, Family, Fantasy, Knight, Nottingham New Theatre, Psychoanalysis, Theatre Review, Witch
Tychy is initially inclined to take a back seat in this review, in a quite literal sense, for I have an eye on the two children who are sitting in front of me. We are at the play “Chasing Dragons,” which presently has a midday slot at C Soco. There is a boy in a floppy hat who is about nine, and his little sister, who cannot be more than three. The former appears to be captivated for the first half an hour of the play, but he then sits back exhausted. The latter is restless – perhaps she is not quite an intellectual yet – and her mother has to seat the little girl on her lap to keep her quiet. If I can speak on behalf of these children, I would say that they are so far giving this play 5 out of 10.
Perhaps we should approve of small children being taken to the theatre, but the latest from Tychy‘s favourite student-run theatre company, Nottingham New Theatre (whose “The Retreat” was a particular highlight of last year’s Fringe) is thoroughly wasted on these kids. Their parents might as well have treated them to pints of Guinness. “Chasing Dragons” tells the story of Edward Maris, a million-selling fantasy author, who is now “wallowing in bitterness” and steadily melting in the fever of his paranoid schizophrenia. He hallucinates that he is in the company of the characters from his novels, who appear bodily on the stage a la Banquo, and to him they seem just as “real” as his psychiatrist.
Although Edward snarls that “there isn’t much to psychiatry, is there?,” he has attracted the attentions of a psychiatrist who is just as much a nuisance as the hallucinations which she is trying to banish. Edward is also being cared for by his sister, Jane, a missionary who has arrived home from Rwanda. It may be merely unfortunate that her last attempts to help people coincided with a genocide, but her track record does not look so hot.
Jane’s line about Edward preferring the company of his hallucinations to real life has a distinct resonance with an audience who have fled to this show from the torrential rain outside. At first, it seems that Edward is merely struggling to resolve a tough intellectual conundrum, rather than realistically suffering from schizophrenia, for he appears to be lucid and stable and on quite good terms with his hallucinations. This smacks more of Flann O’Brien’s At Two Swim Birds than Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. Yet Edward becomes increasingly wearied of his hallucinations, until his obsessive determination to be rid of them is suddenly convincingly psychotic.
This is the story of a liberal dithering and fretting about unpleasant certainties. In fantasy land, the forthright medieval knight Underthorn embarrasses his more modern and sophisticated creator. A smug witch also buzzes around, making barbed remarks and annoying everybody. Yet these hallucinations speak a lot of truth and they have some good lines. Although Underthorn broods that people do not like heroes in the flesh because they realise that they owe everything to them, he has vowed to kill the dragon because, “A perfect world can’t have a dragon in it.” Basil Fawlty would have said the same about marriage, but this dragon ultimately symbolises the looming annihilation of Edward’s psyche.
There are obvious similarities between “Chasing Dragons” and the New Theatre’s 2010 Fringe production “Only One Wing,” which similarly observed a resort to fantasy in the light of debilitating illness, but these plays are actually the work of different writers. “Chasing Dragons” does nothing to pollute the New Theatre brand, however, for its writing and acting are equally sharp and very well matched. Where an inferior writer would not have resisted the temptation to bring this play to a gory end, “Chasing Dragons” instead portrays a reconciliation between the estranged brother and sister with great tenderness. Although of a sceptical mind, Edward finds something nourishing within the Christian faith which is flagging in his sister, and this schizophrenic’s battle with his illness comes to harmonise with the fantasy of the saintly knight riding against his dragon.
But one needs to give an audience more than a happy ending and this hitherto talkative play surprises us with an extravagantly visual conclusion, and one which had those children sitting bolt upright in their seats. I will not give the ending away, but if I can speak again on behalf of those children, they may have at this point bumped up their verdict to 10 out of 10.
[Apologies, but at the time of going to post, Tychy could not obtain the names of any of the cast. Ed.]