The Independent London Newspaper


Theatre: Review - The Golden Dragon at Arcola Theatre

Published: 15 September 2011

THE Golden Dragon is one of those plays that stays with you, percolating in the mind long after you leave the theatre.

Mostly, this is for the right reasons.

German playwright Roland Schimmelp­fennig has written a thoughtful, complex drama about globalisation and the inherent exploitation the migration of so many “anonymous” people from East to West creates.

In the kitchen of the Golden Dragon – a restaurant serving Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese food in an undefined place that could be anywhere – a young illegal immigrant is suffering from excruciating tooth pain.

He can’t go to the dentist because of his illegal status, so his tooth is removed with a spanner, and finds its way into the soup.

From there it is served to one of two air stewardesses, just back from Chile. One is known to her pilot boyfriend as the Barbie doll.

They live above the restaurant. Next door is a food shop and in its upstairs flat is a man whose wife has left him and who finds himself beating up a young Thai prostitute – the sister of the kitchen hand who will soon find himself rolled up in a carpet and thrown in the river.

It is a familiar high street, and shows how closely we live to people from all corners of the globe who we will never get to know.

Interwoven is the metaphorical tale of the grasshopper who didn’t save enough for winter, and so is turned into a prostitute by the ant.

Just five white actors – all excellent – play all the roles on a blank, white stage.

The old play young, the men play women. The idea is to try and make the audience think about putting themselves in the place of others who we see everyday but never think about.

It takes some getting used to, however, and the problem with such a device is that it is an impediment to the drama.

The stage directions are also spoken by the actors, lending the play a parable-style story-telling flavour. But it too jars, and breaks the theatrical spell.

This, along with the often surreal nature of the play, demands a concentration that is difficult to keep up for the full 90 minutes.  

As with most experimental forms, the audience has to work and play catch up and so mars – slightly – a provoking play.

020 7503 1646


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