Archive for September 7th, 2011

Review – The Golden Dragon – Actors Touring Company at the Arcola Theatre

September 7, 2011

So. An offer for free tickets. The show (The Golden Dragon), a “tale of globalisation set in your local takeaway,” a “fable of modern life and migration” with a heavy Asian influence. And it’s at the Arcola, which means I can get an awesome Turkish dinner beforehand. I’m leaving town the next day, but I’m an immigrant, I’m fascinated by the immigrant experience and love Chinese culture, and wasn’t I just saying how sorry I was that I didn’t go to Edinburgh this year? This looked like a great chance to hit a bunch of my interests in one show.

Only … I show up and it’s not going right. There’s no dinner because work ran late. There’s no company because no one could come with me. The comps aren’t there. There’s a huge line because another show is starting at 8PM and I can’t get helped from the “press” line for the 7:30 show because they don’t have my name. Eventually I’m squeezed in near the back thanks to the house manager taking pity on me but my focus is shot because I thought I wasn’t going to make it in at all: it’s the wrong side of payday and my last £2 went on the cheapest food I could find for dinner and paying for a show was not in the cards or in my wallet.

I see a stage is covered in white paper. An older woman takes the stage with a wonderful glowing Chinese toy, garish and trashy in its plastic mass-market-ness, but lovely. I hold my breath waiting for the magic to begin …

and finally give up about 20 minutes in. This thing, the actors playing different roles, changing their clothes, supposedly going between characters as easily as saying “I’m a man” and then talking, it’s not working for me, I’ve seen it before and I don’t care. It’s old. I want my story. I don’t want people saying, “Short pause,” as if somehow it was more magical to say it that to show it. I want this collection of banal stories to start adding up to something I care about, not another stupid “and then all of the seven plotlines magically come together” hoo hah as if somehow the moment where they intertwine is going to make the trudging dullness of the voyage to get to that point any more entertaining. I don’t CARE about the stewardesses, or the pregnant girl, or the drunk angry man, or the other people in the shop, and I don’t believe people bleed to death when their teeth get pulled. For a brief moment, I thought we were going to go into a magical realism fantasy world in which a tongue stuck through a hole in a tooth took a woman to a completely other realm, but it didn’t happen.

Instead, while I wished I felt brave enough to crawl over ten people on my way to the exit (surely the 70 minutes was going to end soon!), I came up with my own story about the ant and the grasshopper. When the ant confronts the grasshopper with his laziness, the grasshopper points out a sad fact to the ant: he, the ant, has spent his whole life laboring only to make the QUEEN rich. Now that it is winter, the ant is going to die, just like the grasshopper will. Only the grasshopper goes knowing that he’s led a life that at least has brought some pleasure to the world.

In my version of this story, the ant realizes he’s just been a slave to capitalism and goes off for a last dance with the grasshopper before winter comes on. In the play, the grasshopper gets beat up and the boy with the toothache dies, but we don’t care, except for the fact that we are now able to leave. No connection has been made to any of the characters; no life lessons have been learned; we have not been illuminated about the human condition.

Is this what fringe theater is about nowadays, five people changing clothes and reading out stage directions as they recite dialogue written by some German guy pretending to have a tiny clue about what it means to be an immigrant much less Chinese? What a horror. Even though it was free, I left angry at the time I had wasted on this when instead I could have learned something genuine about the human condition, and that of immigrants, perhaps by sitting at the Dalston train station and watching the world go by. You have been warned.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 2nd, 2011. The play continues through September 24th.)