Friday, August 12, 2016

Deal with the Dragon (C Nova, Edinburgh Fringe)

We all have a dragon. We may not all deal with the dragon, but there's always one there, over our shoulder, behind our back, peering at us around corners and from under beds. And while it may be left exquisitely open as to quite what the dragon represents in San Franciscan Kevin Rolston's rollicking tour de force, it's obvious that it can be a force for evil just as much as good.

Western culture tends to see the dragon as a ferocious symbol of power, grandeur and trickery, but in Eastern culture the dragon is seen as lucky, benevolent and wise. Rolston's interpretation of the dragon is all of these things wrapped into one, monstrous character called Brenn, an arts critic from the Black Forest who swoops into people's lives when they are feeling vulnerable or when they are at a crossroads. He acts as artistic patron to painter Hunter, who is on the cusp of submitting a piece of work to a museum for a prestigious showcase. He is one of two contesting finalists, along with the deliciously camp Gandy Schwartz.

Rolston plays all three of these characters (as well as a 12-year-old version of Hunter, and the evil queen Maleficent!) and embodies each with impressive ease. There's absolutely no way the audience can confuse any two characters, or be in any doubt as to which he is playing at any one time (and sometimes he plays them in very quick succession). Rolston is magnificent at them all, a confident performer who has a very clear vision of the characters in his mind, and this translates effortlessly to the stage.

We start by exploring the relationship of power and influence Brenn has over Hunter, who we subsequently see made a blood pact with the apparently ageless German when he was 13 years old. The young Hunter is seen playing with his sister's dolls of Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip from Disney's animated film Sleeping Beauty. There's also a fabulously camp turn as Maleficent from Rolston, before Hunter signs his Faustian pact with Brenn.

The clearest character is Gandy, a bitchy queen who teeters on parody but has much more depth than most "tarts with a heart" in the genre. Performing Gandy's monologue (while leading an AA meeting!), Rolston's performance is more natural, hesitant, realistically conversational. He stumbles over words, backtracks and digresses, just as we all do in real life. It is less a performance, and more a possession of the character. Gandy is also screamingly funny, and is by far the strongest aspect of the show. Gandy is Rolston's masterpiece.

It's a hard show to sum up. It's one of those performances that has to be seen to be fully understood, as each person watching will have their own take on the vampiric Brenn and what he represents. Kevin Rolston has his own take, but is Brenn really a dragon (he looks human but breathes fire)? Is he a muse, the devil, a demon? Is he the manifestation of our fears and vulnerabilities? Our self-loathing and doubts? Is he all or none of these things? The beauty of Deal with the Dragon is that it speaks to the individual, and the dragon is different things to different people, all things to all men, and nothing to some.

Kevin Rolston is superb in every multi-faceted part he conjures. When he is Hunter, his face is one of boyish innocence. When he is Brenn, he becomes that fiery, dangerous, judgemental critic with a "thing" about correct grammar. When he is Gandy, his whole physical being morphs into a "queeny" countenance. His performance is nuanced and considered, but translates as very natural and sometimes spontaneous.

Deal with the Dragon deals with Hunter's dragon, and Gandy's dragon. But we all have our dragons, and what they represent to us, and what they do to us, is unique, much like this thoughtful and thought-provoking performance. It's without doubt a real highlight to catch at Edinburgh while you can.

The stats
Writer and performer: Kevin Rolston
Director: M. Graham Smith
Performed at Studio 3, C Nova, Edinburgh, August 5th to 29th (not 15th), 2016. Performance reviewed: August 11th 2016

Deal with the Dragon homepage (retrieved Aug 11 2016)
Deal with the Dragon trailer (retrieved Aug 11 2016)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Did you see the show too? I'd love to hear your feedback!