Note: This is a review of the matinee performance on Saturday 14th October 2017.
After the too brief glory of Follies, the run of flops in the Olivier resumes with this latest National new commission. This show appears to be yet another attempt by the venue to comment on the state of the nation. The result is two hours and 45 minutes of often painful tedium.
Rory Mullarkey's play starts from the premise that St George reappears age after age to slay the dragon which mutates into different guises. We start in pre-industrial England, move forward to a country in the grip of the industrial revolution and finish up in present day London. The cyclical approach is unfortunately reminiscent of Common's repetitions and problematic, albeit in different ways. Firstly, the play asserts that only a year passes between each encounter but there is really no sign that anybody ages at all in that year. Secondly, the village still seems to be inhabited on each occasion by exactly the same people, but there is almost nothing in the way of individual character or relationship development. This is compounded by the cliched nature of many of the characters – the fact that nearly all of them are denied a proper name and referred to instead by trade both indicates and exacerbates this (crier, butcher, healer etc. - as with Eggy Tom in Common I despair that it seems to have occurred to nobody in the National's commissioning process that there was any problem with this). Then there's the shallow political commentary which Mullarkey will insist on bolting on to this rickety structure – a tiresome anti-capitalist screed in the second cycle, wearily familiar remarks about the breakdown of communities in the third, and general unexplored assertions that there was, at some point in the past, a better, possibly golden, age. The net effect of all this is to bore. Apart from one or two brief sparks in the second half the play basically committed my cardinal sin of failing to make me care about anybody on stage, or to make me really believe in any of the relationships being represented.