“Love’s primary food source is communication…”

Playing in the BT Studio from 6-10 June before heading to the Fringe, Blue Dragon welds comedy and emotional intensity in an impressively seamless fashion. In just under an hour, the play explores communication and miscommunication, inviting us to examine “human relationships”. Written by Oisin Byrne and directed by both Byrne and Harry Brook, An Exciting New’s production tells the story of the Blue Dragon – a platform where people come on to die. With many of the cast and creative team having also worked on the incredible production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Blue Dragon is worth looking out for.

Consisting of a screen, two tiny chairs, and a bench, the set is wonderfully crafted. I felt that this encapsulated the play: it is at once comedic and serious, as the tiny (I cannot stress this enough) chairs are placed alongside the bench. It immerses the audience in the play, almost as if we too are travellers, sitting on the opposite side of the platform. The audience can hear trains moving in the background, as we look at the screen just as we do with timetables in a station.

The command of space is also laudable. I didn’t expect Chloe (Tess Klygis) to appear behind the audience, with the elevation being particularly apt for the scene. Likewise, Katie Peachey directing among the audience adds to the atmosphere. Her performance as the artist is incredibly powerful, delivering decidedly wise lines with emotional intensity, all the while indicating to audiences that there is something deeper at play.

Donning a sparkly dress and robe respectively, the actress (Klygis) and the actor (Lorenzo Allchurch) elicited much laughter from the audience. Allchurch’s portrayal of the actor portraying Derek is a firm favourite (if the reaction of the room is anything to go by). “What is this…fatal attraction?”, delivered by the actor upon realising his fate was also one of my favourites. Part of the humour stems from the flamboyance created by the costumes and it is to Ailish Gaughan’s credit that the different costumes in the play work so well. Capturing the different styles of the characters, they also served as a means of distinguishing between them, particularly when they are played by the same person. 

The Blue Dragon is ultimately meant for the artist. The relationship between the artist and the driver (Leah Aspden) is juxtaposed with the relationships between the different travellers. While the artist is “[made]” to “forget why she’s here”, there is a tenderness and familiarity in their interactions with each other. It is through the strength of Aspden and Peachey’s acting that this is captured so wonderfully. When the driver requests to see what the artist has come up with, citing it as being “in the spirit of collaboration”, the artist directly responds with: “I despise collaboration”. Beyond drawing laughter from the audience, this hints at familiarity and comfort. While talking about the artist to the travellers, Aspden also captures the pain and turmoil of the driver perfectly: tears are evidently held back.

But this is also a play concerned with art: Magritte’s Time Transfixed is projected on the screen for part of the play, with other paintings making an appearance. Shadow puppetry also features. Blue Dragon is deeply aware of structures: the ones we create and live by, the ones that have always been there. Most poignantly perhaps, is the scene where Diane (Klygis) makes a metacommentary regarding the driver and artist’s actions and behaviour as “performance art” representing “human relationships”. 

Repetition is also a key feature of the play. It denotes forgetting, a breakdown in communication, and also adds to the humour of the play. The last of which is particularly prominent in the aforementioned scene of the actress and actor performing the artist’s play.

Blue Dragon lives up to its promises of being a dark comedy. It investigates human relationships and their complexities whilst imbuing them with lighter moments. Heart-wrenching and humorous, the artist perhaps has it right: relationships need to be “[fed]”.

Tickets can be found here: https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/blue-dragon?fbclid=IwAR1sJubioENfMp7iVu3oNfttDHHvp16yg6Sc2zlulosYMw6d2rRqjfu6zYg