Sunday 8 October 2023

Dragon Hearts review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It's clear that Bria McCarthy has had an interest in dragons since before Game of Thrones made them cool again. In Dragon Hearts, McCarthy tells us the stories of various dragons through time using shadow puppetry along with some other creative forms and styles but unfortunately this production falls short of effective storytelling.

There are a few stagecraft issues, one of the more obvious ones being the sightlines. Unless you sit in the front row or the front row of the high chairs, it is difficult to see the text that is displayed on the screen with the obstruction of the heads of people seated in front of you. The music is unaffecting and quite repetitive and it does little to support the emotional depth of the scenes that McCarthy hopes to instil. There is a strong need for a dramaturgical eye to finesse these stories and allow audiences with limited or next to no knowledge of the tales to be swept away on the journey intended for us.

The stories are told in chapters, and as mentioned, not all of them are successfully reimagined in this production. The ones that leave an impression are the story of Medusa that gives a new perspective, and another on the traditional legend of a young girl called Maude who befriends a dragon. These provide a connection between audience and the people and animals involved as well as highlighting McCarthy's eco-feminism storytelling practice.

Dragon Hearts is most visually engaging when we have the beautifully designed and detailed puppets being maneuvered to create the moving story and while McCarthy shows skill in this, she would benefit from having someone else to minimise her hands and body from obscuring the light and the puppets. Her use of coloured oils and paper to break the black and white images of the puppetry offer a moment of difference and surprise to her audience.

McCarthy has put her heart and soul in this production but consideration is needed for what the people on the other side of the screen are seeing and experiencing. There are undoubtedly many unheard stories to be told around dragons that would be fascinating to hear, but a rethink on how these are shared is needed.

Dragon Hearts
was performed at Trades Hall 4 - 8 October.

Image Credit:
Geneva Valek

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