The Golden Dragon

This translation of Roland Schimmelpfennig's award-winning play is lifted by great performances.

★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 09 August 2011

For a play which suggests that something as innocuous as a Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese takeaway could be just a veneer for the systematic and casual abuse of immigrants in our communities, this is remarkably aloof theatre. There's a stark human tragedy in here somewhere, but it's hidden by layers of turgid translation and heavy dramaturgy.

One particular example might serve as indicative of the whole. The cast begin the performance by unfurling rolls of paper to completely cover the stage. It's unashamedly theatrical, and an obviously symbolic act: the creation of a sort of blank canvas upon which the action may be recorded. But it's an act that appears to achieve little. Rather than creating a physical and artistic record of the events—forcing the audience to recall the horrors that have occurred in and around the Golden Dragon even after the actors have taken their bows—the paper just gets a bit wet, ripped and untidy. There's no payoff; it's barely affecting.

That's not to say this translation of Roland Schimmelpfennig's award-winning play doesn't work at all. The repeated reading of items on the takeaway menu, for instance, neatly connects the mundane with the global. But it's the performances rather than the production that partially save this show. The five-person cast show extraordinary range and subtlety in their characterisation of the intriguing array of lives connected by the Golden Dragon takeaway. This is a production memorable for its collection of beautifully performed characters, rather than for the important and far more sinster web that connects them.