By Sarah Edgcumbe
The Suitcase Storytelling Company are magicians. There is no other way to describe them. On a recent wet and mizzly Sunday afternoon my partner and I took his eight-year-old daughter to a nearby community theatre, expecting to fidget our way through being mildly entertained, but hoping his daughter would enjoy the show. The set consisted of a screen painted with a rudimentary set of train tracks set against mountains in the background. In the foreground, a painted electronic sign indicated we would be transported onto a railway station platform as soon as the show began. A tannoy announcement repeatedly announced that the train was delayed, before politely asking passengers to keep their umbrellas next to them and report any sightings of dragons to train staff.
The Girl and the Dragon was both a surprise and a joy. An allegory for modern times, two performers held the attention of everyone involved with the aid of some ridiculously basic props. A toy dragon, a skipping rope, some questionable representations of arm bands and a couple of umbrellas were all it took for the kids in the audience to imagine exactly what was being conveyed to them by the performers on stage. Billed as “heart-warming” and a show in which “heroes come from anywhere and villains aren’t always what they seem”, The Girl and the Dragon far surpassed our expectations.
The hero of the story is Toral – a young girl who has been forcibly displaced by the King of the Kingdom she lives in. The reason for her displacement, we are told by the King, is that he is concerned for the safety of the villagers – he has no choice but to order them to leave their homes. For you see, a rabid dragon is on the loose, murdering all who he encounters as he rampages across the countryside.
The performance is told through the characters of Toral and her uncle, as they are sat on a train station platform awaiting a train to Far Away. Toral is reluctantly being sent to live with her uncle for her own safety – her parents will join her later, when they can. Toral doesn’t want to go. She’s scared, clinging desperately to all that is familiar to her.
The story that follows is presented as the improvised creation of Toral and her uncle as they seek to entertain and comfort Toral whilst waiting for their delayed train. What follows is a metaphorical masterclass in progressive ideals such as diversity and compassion. In accessible, easy to follow language, the children in the audience are enticed into a familiar context of princesses and dragons. But this is no vapid Disney story – the tone is firmly anti-patriarchal, anti-xenophobic and anti-authority, appropriately tailored to a young audience.
Through her courage and tenacity, and a lifetime of encouragement and support from her family, Toral saves the day. The dragon (who was presented to us by the king as a savage and bloodthirsty beast), turns out to be a vegetarian who just wants a quiet life. Through a conversation with the dragon, Toral, who is an internally displaced person (or perhaps even a refugee – we do not know where the train station is in relation to her village and the boundaries of the Kingdom) discovers that the King has been calculatingly drumming up fear of the dragon amongst ordinary citizens in order to take more resources for himself.
Woven through the background of the story is the King’s promise of his daughter’s hand in marriage to whomever slays the dragon. This contributes to Toral’s determination to achieve what others cannot – her friend, the princess is understandably mortified by her father’s decision to palm her off to an unknown man as a prize. Toral’s goal is not only to secure safety for her family so they can be reunited in their home village, but also to secure freedom from unwanted marriage for her friend. At the end of the show, we are told what happened to each character in the aftermath of the play’s events: the dragon lived in peace as the people were made aware that he posed no harm, the King was consigned to a life of cleaning up poo, and Toral and the princess went on many adventures together before eventually falling in love and entering into a relationship.
This play should be placed firmly on the national curriculum in primary schools across the UK and beyond. Free tickets should be posted to every reader of The Daily Mail and The Sun in the country. This hour-long performance was genuinely incredible – it’s one of the best uses of Arts Council funding I’ve ever encountered I would highly recommend that everybody who has the opportunity goes to see it. Go even if you don’t have kids – borrow a niece or nephew, or take a neighbour and their family for an afternoon out. You won’t regret it. Not only was The Girl and the Dragon entirely heart warming, but it filled us with hope. My partner’s daughter exclaimed that she wishes she could see it every day – does a review get any better than that?
Featured image credit: The Acorn Penzance
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