Grief eats up words. Grief hides words, locks them up in far reaches of the brain. Grief deforms words, catches them in mouths that can’t quite form the sounds.
Dragon, from writer Oliver Emanuel, is a wordless exploration of grief, as we follow teenage Tommy after the death of his mother. It is an extraordinary commitment to visual poetry: actors float between scenes, moving sets and props in and out with a simple turn, a quiet flourish. This is a world that moves on its own terms, but is still resolutely relatable.
Under fluffy clouds, Jamie Harrison’s set peers out of concentric circles of black; Simon Wilkinson’s lighting catches to make the actors and their props shine out from the dark.
At times the work seems to rush by, but then directors Harrison and Candice Edmunds pull back, luxuriating in a moment of particular devastation, or particular humour. Tim Phillip’s lush orchestral composition, overlaid on Mark Melville’s deeply evocative sound design, at times fades away and all we hear is the minutiae of life: breaths taken in deeply, a thrown cigarette lighter skipping across the stage.
The dragon grows and transforms along with Tommy’s grief. She is a blanket to cover with; she is a beast to escape the world on; she is angry and mean. She’s a way to move forward.
At the end of Dragon we’ve been in the theatre for only 80 minutes. We’ve been with Tommy for only months. And yet, it feels like we’ve been in this world forever, and also for no time at all.