Review: Blue Dragon
by Irina Radulet | June 10, 2023
Those of you who have been to Oxford’s Burton Taylor Studio know how cramped it can be. For most productions, this is a problem that they must work around, but for Blue Dragon, a new dark comedy written by Oisin Byrne and directed by Harry Brook, it’s an asset. The play unfolds on a single train platform, and decades are packed into the play’s dinky 50-minute runtime. With Byrne claiming that the platform was inspired by the “Seiryu Miharashi train station in Japan, which has no entrance or exit,” the claustrophobic confines of the BT are the perfect setting for this bizarre play.
We find ourselves in an Andy Warhol-esque space. A surrealist montage, projected on to a sheet screen, greets us as we take our seats. Fantastical images flash before our eyes: the Goya painting, Saturn Devouring his Son; a projected puppet getting what appears to be a blowjob; and Magritte’s train steaming out of the chimney, of course. It’s an intoxicating visual cocktail and I feel, frankly, bewildered. This is true for much of the course of the play, which is constructed like a Russian doll. The audience must work hard to get at the heart of it. It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion, and by the time I leave I’m still not sure I have succeeded.
The figure that this play revolves around is the taciturn Driver (Leah Aspden). They don’t say much, but everything they do say is a piece in an intricately constructed puzzle. There are also three couples, all played by Tess Klygis and Lorenzo Allchurch. And then there’s the Artist (Katie Peachey), who is obnoxious, delusional, and doesn’t know when to shut up. Like a hipster at a café who wants to prove that they know more about art than you, at one point she asks one of the couples, “What’s your favourite painting?” The reply – Saturn Devouring his Son – prompts an unprompted monologue: “But can you hear it?” Hear what? “The gnashing of teeth, the crunching of bone”, etc. She does go on.
There’s a sense that the characters are semi-aware of our presence, and us the audience are breathing down their necks. “You don’t know the things I’ve done!” one of the passengers bewails. Nodding to us, the Driver laconically retorts, “Oh, I do. But they don’t.” It’s all a bit of a surreal vortex. But it’s playful, and has a lightness of touch that not all student plays which engage with purportedly ‘philosophical’ themes have. At times it falls victim to the irresistible platitudes that are symptomatic of most student writing (“It’s not real. None of it is.”), but there are also moments of touching vulnerability. At one point, the Driver says, panicked, that “I can’t disrupt the limits I’ve created. It wouldn’t be fair!” It’s a powerful comment, and one which encapsulates the anxiety that comes with stepping outside the boundaries that we are all complicit in creating for ourselves.
Blue Dragon, directed by Harry Brook, is showing at the Burton Taylor Studio, Tue 6- Sat 10 June 2023.
Words by Irina Husti-Radulet.
Photography by I-Cenay Trim.