Event review: ‘The Reluctant Dragon’, a play for children at Matthew’s Yard

By - Friday 20th March, 2015

Anna Arthur and her seven year old enjoy the cast’s enthusiasm but struggle to engage with this production

Venue: 1 Matthews Yard, Croydon, CR0 1FF

Dates: 18th-20th March at 5:00pm, 21st-22nd March at 2:30 pm

Cost: £7/£5

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

The Reluctant Dragon is a children’s story written in 1898 by Kenneth Grahame, who also penned The Wind in the Willows. It tells the tale of a small boy and a scholarly dragon that loves poetry. When the dragon takes up residence in a local cave, the boy befriends him and welcomes the dragon into his family. Unfortunately the townsfolk discover the dragon’s presence and, unsurprisingly, want him gone.

Cue St. George with his sword, ready to dispatch the dragon. However, the clever boy (or girl in this production) introduces the saint and the dragon to each other and between them they agree to stage a fake battle. The outcome is that St. George takes the victory and the dragon, after a good talking-to, is converted from a fire-breathing predator into a harmless neighbour. The book is credited with being the first to render the dragon a sympathetic character.

The version presented by Not Cricket Productions could not be faulted for its enthusiasm. The five actors (one inside a giant on-stage dragon puppet) joyfully told the story using songs and humour to engage both young and old in the audience. It was a fairly unconventional start – a stage invasion by three toddlers who were not happy to be returned to their seats by their considerate parents, and the opening lines had to compete with some pretty hefty wailing. However, after another brief foray onto the stage, the toddlers seemed to accept that it was now the grown-ups turn.

I’m sure many humorous moments were missed because I failed to follow what was being said

So it was with great gusto that the acting began, and act they did. But there was a lot of text; far too much for the toddlers to deal with and even my seven year-old struggled. I too struggled with the speed at which it was delivered and I’m sure many humorous moments were missed because I failed to follow what was being said. There was lots of action, costume changes and entrances and exits but not much character development, so we gained little empathy for the characters. Even the dragon, who was ostensibly the star of the show and took up a sizeable area of the stage, failed to impress, albeit he was a magnet for the children who couldn’t wait to give him a stroke at the end of the show.

Admittedly, family-friendly shows are a hard nut to crack; you need to target your age group and go for that. If you can throw in a double entendre for the adults that’s always appreciated, but parents are usually happy if their kids are engaged. This production might have worked better in an outdoor space but the confines of Matthews Yard were reluctant to frame it in its best light.

Anna Arthur

Anna Arthur

Anna Arthur is a mum of three, dog owner and director of Croydonites Festival of New Theatre. Born in the north-east, she grew up just outside of Portsmouth but London and Croydon have been her home for over 20 years. She also works in contemporary dance, but don’t hold that against her.

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