Time Out says
Rory Mullarkey’s eccentric National Theatre debut is a fun, if frustrating romp
This year, for some reason, the National Theatre’s giant Olivier stage has become the weirdest new writing theatre in London.
This summer it ran Yaël Farber’s spectacular, misguided ‘Salomé’ in rep with DC Moore’s awesomely incomprehensible ‘Common’. And though it has a good ol’ fashioned hit on its hands at the moment with its jaw-dropping revival of Sondheim’s ‘Follies’, matters have been ‘complicated’ with the programming of Rory Mullarkey’s eccentric ‘Saint George and the Dragon’.
It reminds me a lot of the sort of the low-budget teatime period comedy dramas that were on TV during my childhood: think ‘Maid Marion and Her Merry Men’ but with better jokes and less comprehensible motivation.
Essentially, Lyndsey Turner’s genuinely very enjoyable production feels like three episodes, each of which features John Heffernan’s preening, unworldly Saint George returning to his hometown in order to slay Julian Bleach’s campy Dragon. George is away for a year at a time between vanquishings, but in each absence the world surges into the future, at his behest: the first part is set in medieval times, the second in the industrial revolution, the third in the present.
I enjoyed it, because it’s fun: a daft ‘Blackadder’-ish genre pastiche blessed by a beautiful chocolate box set from Rae Smith and a stupendously committed performance from a wig-wearing Heffernan (perhaps the most underappreciated actor of his generation, though you can possibly see why with odd projects like this).
It’s clear that ‘Saint George’ is intended as some comment on Englishness, but for much of the play this is relatively oblique, and the schlocky adventure format takes precedence. In part one the dragon appears to represent feudalism; in part two, the extreme capitalism of the workhouse era, both overcome by – I suppose – the English spirit.
In the third part, George hits choppier waters: the dragon seems to have become a meanness of spirit that has wormed its way into the English. (I’m not saying the dragon is Brexit. But it’s probably Brexit-adjacent).
George can no longer simply lop its head off. Maybe he shouldn’t: maybe George now represents a glorious past that needs to be let go; maybe Mullarkey is saying the English are all part-George, part-dragon. I don’t know, really: there is some very funny stuff about the English character – particularly in a sequence set in a pub during an England game – but the play’s message feels malleable to the point of vagueness, in need of a bit of dramaturgical dragon-slaying.
Ultimately ‘Saint George and the Dragon’ is a fairly preposterous play that I enjoyed quite a lot, albeit one that made me glad – not for the first time – that I have another nationality to fall back on.
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Saw this last night and it was bafflingly odd! Like a pantomime written by 14 year old George Bernard Shaw. I have been going to the National for nearly 40 years and this was by far the weakest play I have seen there. It was clear that the audience did not know what to make of it and there were times when I felt the urge to boo and hiss the hammy pantomime villain. It reminded me of the Romans in .Britain - which I similarly saw at a preview - and like that play the politiccal and moral instruction is heavy handed and almost childishly naive - reminded me too of the London Olympics opening ceremony. The actors were clearly trying their best with the script with John Heffernan carrying much of the play. The audience were polite with their subdued clapping but I overheard several comments along the lines of "what was that?" How did this play make it onto the Olivier stage? Sadly I think it should have been pulled before it reached an audience and I am only glad I did not pay the full price for my ticket. I feel really terrible posting a bad review as I always try to find the good things in a play, but really there is little that can be done to save this; not even drastic cutting. Oh dear, sorry National!
Usually when I am at odds with prevailing opinion, it's because I discover that something the critics are salivating over is actually utter tripe.
So, having feared the worse, what a relief to discover that SG&TD is really rather excellent. The dragon allegories are not exactly subtle -- tyrannical monarchy, rampant capitalism, and finally selfish self-indulgence -- but the message is delivered with a lightness of touch and a lot of mirth, and, cleverly, works regardless of your Brexit bias.
Pride in one's national identity is sometimes frowned up, especially amongst the cosmopolitan middle classes, so that may explain the negative reactions, since this play positively revels in such notions. For me, the production is simply joyful.
Julian Bleach has a lot of fun as the dragon, John Heffeman offers a perfect comic mix of clownish bravado and romantic hero, but the night (on Friday 20 October) was stolen by the young actor playing The Boy. He will go far. The rest of the ensemble are all top notch, with -- unusually for the National -- no weak links in the supporting cast.
If there is one criticism, it is that the live musicians are not used to any great effect. A more substantive score would have been welcome. Without one, I don't think anyone would have noticed if the fairly slight music were, instead, prerecorded.
Actually, I have a second criticism, and that is that, after the slaying of dragon heads one and two, I was fully expecting, to be wowed by the third, but the effects here were left to shadows, lights and our own imagination. That's perfectly acceptable in theatrical terms, but at odds with the reputation of the National for spectacular set designs.
Saw this ghastly play during one of last previews. It is excruciatingly badly written leaving the actors with nothing to act of any worth.iam guessing its sort of like a replacement pantomime but without the laughs. It is long and boring and puerile. How this ever was allowed to be put on at the National Theatre or indeed anywhere is beyond comprehension. DO NOT GO TO SEE THIS ‘show’ at any cost
You know something has gone wrong with a play when the audience don't know whether it's time to clap. A generally fun, well casted, 2 hours, leads into a frankly unfathomable dour final 10 minutes, completely at odds with the rest of the play.