Saint George and the Dragon review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(8user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson John Heffernan (George) and Amaka Okafor (Elsa)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Reuel Guzman (Boy), John Heffernan (George) and Gawn Grainger (Charles)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Grace Saif (Healer's Daughter)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson  
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson John Heffernan (George) and Gawn Grainger (Charles)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Luke Brady (Miller's Son) and Stephanie Jacob (Miller) 
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Reuel Guzman (Boy) and Johan Heffernan (George)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Amaka Okafor (Elsa) and Richard Goulding (Henry)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Stephanie Jacob (Miller), Luke Brady (Miller's Son) and Tamzin Griffin (Healer)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Grace Saif (Healer's Daughter) and Joe Caffrey (Smith) 

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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.


Users say (8)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:2
1 person listening
1 of 1 found helpful

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!


I really don't understand why this play got slated so badly. Personally, Saint George and the Dragon was really enjoyable, and easily one of the better plays I have seen this year. I know many would disagree, but what really did it for me was the emphasis of the same themes across various periods of time, right up to today. The director and writer really made it as clear as day, that we still have the same problems today, as we had before hundreds of years ago. Nothing has changed! Apart from the story, the cast is excellent and this is some of the best acting you can find in a London theatre. Further, the effects are pretty cool (the slicing of the dragon's head) and the costumes too are well done. Overall I thoroughly recommend it, despite all the criticism this show has had.


This play has a lot to say about consumerism, the changing of the times and how we treat others. I found it a bit odd that there is only a year in between Georges' returns home, however we seem to skip a few decades, from medieval times, to the industrial revolution, to the present day. Having said that, the set gloriously spins and comes apart and rebuilds itself to portray these changes. John Heffernan was great as George, never giving up the spirit of wanting to live in a simpler time when the 'dragon' wasn't in all of us. This is a piece of theatre that makes you think about your own life and how you choose to live it, although done in a slightly repetitive way and was a touch too long.

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.


I was rather hoping for a light hearted fun show.

It proved to be very sluggish, and rather lacking in humour.The story is about George (Saint) tackling a series of Dragons during different time zones.The time zones are a bit fuzzy, and the target audience is confused.I expected a family show, & was surprised to find so few children in the audience (at a Saturday matinee during half term).Having bounced though different ages the play end at present times & questions where we (the English) have gone wrong, and how maybe we should tear everything down & go back to the "good old days". It could be read as a "Brexit message" / but then dismisses the argument so could be read as a "Remainer" message.I'm afraid the play is just a mess, & really not good enough for the Olivier stage.

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

Simon Needs


Saint George and the Dragon was still in the very early previews when I saw it, and as such there were a few technical issues and a few moments where it didn't quite hit its stride. On saying that, I liked it well enough to be willing to watch it again later to see how it evolves.

St George himself is well-cast, John Heffernan is charming, funny, and a bit clueless as the eponymous hero, however the show is definitely stolen by Julian Bleach as a Monty Python/Blackadder-esque personification of The Dragon. His performance is marvellous, pretty creepy, and delightfully odd.

The design of the show is stunning, but whatever your opinions of the National, their productions are always gorgeously turned out. The sound and lighting design, are similarly pleasing, so you can go knowing you'll get to enjoy a large-scale spectacle, if nothing else.

The only thing that really jarred for me was the short section just before the end, which didn't seem to fit the rest of the play tonally. In terms of the sense of story, and how the play works as an allegory, I understand why the moment I'm describing needs to be there, but in terms of pitching the piece to a wider, National-attending audience, I don't know how well it's going to be received. Maybe it will become more integrated by the time the show hits Press Night.

Despite my reservations about the ending, I would recommend Saint George and the Dragon, but I would also caveat that recommendation with the advice that you might want to see it later in the run.

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.