Another reason to love theatre in Melbourne: just when you think you’ve seen your favourite production of the year, a week later there’s one that’s even better. With The Golden Dragon, the MTC’s Lawler Studio Season continues to have the bold and exciting voice that is so often missing from main-stage productions.
The story is based around a Thai Chinese Vietnamese restaurant called The Golden Dragon and the people who live in the flats above. Far from the sitcom it sounds like, it tells its story in seemingly unrelated snippets and hints. German writer Roland Schimmelpfennic (translated by David Tushingham) embraces a Brechtian distance that combines third-person narratives and speaks its pauses and directions. This is magnified as the cast play multiple characters who are further alienated from expectations as men play women, Caucasians play Asians, old play young and Ash Flanders plays a sexually abused cricket.
This style of writing leaves the cast with no option but to find the human essence of the character, the stuff that should never be defined by age, gender, or ethnicity."This is theatre that makes you work, but it’s worth it; it isn’t one to miss"
And what an ensemble. At first Rodney Afif, Ash Flanders (Sisters Grimm, Negative Energy Inc, I Love You Bro), Jan Friedl, Dana Miltins (The Rabble) and Roger Oakley (Beyond The Neck) seem so out of place as five Asians in a tiny restaurant, but this lasts for a few moments and it isn’t long until Afif’s Woman in the Dress, Miltins’s Asian Man with a Toothache, Friedel’s Grandaughter, Oakley’s Stewardess and Flanders’s Cricket are as natural and affecting as anyone cast to type.
Director Daniel Clarke (The Event, My Name is Rachel Corrie) lets the distance intrigue his audience by focussing on details, like a broken stiletto, and lets his performers hint about so much more than they show and revel in the visceral, like the taste of blood and Thai coconut soup or a wooden skewer in a tooth (in scenes that put Marathon Man to shame; best to look away of you have tooth issues). This detail is also supported by Andrew Bailey’s design that treats with coloured bowls and a carpet of light. So fascinating are these details that when the climax and the secret is revealed, it’s a shock to realise how close we’ve come to this world and to discover how much we care about these people.
The Golden Dragon almost demands a second viewing, even if just to watch the cast without worrying about the story or to dissect the writing to see where it hides its secrets and how it builds its love. This is theatre that makes you work, but it’s worth it; it isn’t one to miss.