Aging rockers hiding in a trailer, a headbanging competition in a broken down car, floating wigs, ski slopes and fake snow, a bubble machine, and some strangely impressive and multifunctional inflatables. In an extremely bizarre way, La Mélancolie Des Dragons kind of had it all. In other ways, this almost insane mix of components, along with many others that wouldn’t fit into that first sentence, actually came together to create a play that was deceptively complex, hugely daring, interesting in ways that may not seem apparent to you until twelve hours later, and as amusing as anything you might have seen on stage.
High praise, you say? Well, yeah – it’s deserved. From the very beginning this is an extremely funny piece of theatre that pushes boundaries you didn’t know existed. Picture the first scene: a car with a trailer attached to the back seems to have broken down. We can see four men, clearly in long rocker wigs, through the windows. AC/DC is playing on the stereo, the men are drinking Fosters, and each of them is nodding their head in time to the beat. It is a quite startling image in some ways – four stranded men in the middle of a snowy landscape trying their best to muddle through the situation. Then the song changes. Still no word has been spoken and nobody has got out of the car. The song changes so many times before someone does, to the extent that you almost start to think the whole play could made up of rockers sitting in a car. Then, when one of them finally does make a move, and you think the play will properly start, they simply go to the back of the car and pull out a toy dragon, return to their seat and make it fly around the car. The first real laughs come from the audience. Masterful direction has dragged out the opening scene for so long that you begin to look past the traditional need for an impactful entrance, and allow yourself to bask in the oddness and the humour.
And although that oddness and humour is never to go away, and is in fact the heart of the production, looking back on the opening scene you can see that it provides clues which help unlock the mystery of this challenging piece of theatre. Because it isn’t just a funny show. In fact, it probably has more layers than an onion that has been chosen as the main prize in game of pass the parcel.
It’s probably worth saying now that to divulge the myriad ways in which these layers reveal themselves would actually be to ruin the effect of the show, so please excuse any vagueness in the rest of this review. If you go and see the play you’ll be glad it wasn’t ruined. Having said that, one of the initial layers which unpeels itself is easy to spot and extremely effective. La Mélancolie Des Dragons most obvious conceit is that it’s a satire of the art world. It is a story that laughs at the idea of symbolism in its most obvious forms, while also working as a powerful piece of symbolism in its own right.
There’s one other layer that you don’t have to look to hard to find, too. This one, kind of going hand-in-hand with the mockery of the art world, pokes a few very well aimed jibes at the marketing and advertising industries. The rockers in the play are designing their very own amusement park. As they project their million and one possible titles in their million and one different fonts onto the stage, anyone who has sat in a marketing meeting will recognise the situation.
After that, though, things get a little more complicated. It’s really difficult to do justice to the power of the plays hidden meanings without just coming out and telling you what happens, but I think it’s fair to say that each audience member will have come out of HOME with differing thoughts swimming around their head. What I’m still thinking about now is the final scene. Keeping the idea of symbolism at the forefront of my mind, it is difficult to picture the closing moments, when one character stands alone at the centre of the stage, surrounded by dark pillars and smoke, as anything other than the scene of her death. And if that is the case, it opens up new possibilities for everything that came before.
In the end, I think there will be those who came away seeing this as just a bizarre and funny play satirising art, film, and advertising. But there will be others who see a play about our journey through life, the trivialities we juggle just to get from day to day, and the eventual, inevitable, lonely end. Either way, this is a play worth watching.