A fabulous flight of fantasy, Deal with the Dragon is an unreasonably enchanting show that will have you spellbound.
Hunter is on the verge of his big break. He just needs to finish his final piece of art for consideration at a high profile gallery. He must do everything he can to keep his keeper, centuries old dragon, Brenn, happy, in Deal with the Dragon. But what of Hunter’s rival, Gandy?
Deal with the Dragon is a show about ambition, gay identity, control, dependence, and addiction: not exactly shockingly new topics. But what Kevin Roulston does is explore these themes with a genre twist that you wouldn’t normally associate with LGBTQ theatre: fantasy. Roulston’s characters are all bound together by a charismatic, sexy, and magical dragon, who has a history of making contracts with young artists for them to become his ward and create art for him. It might sound like an outlandish concept and one that could quite easily undermine the main themes in Deal with the Dragon, but the result couldn’t be further from this. Especially with themes of dependency and control, Roulston’s fantastical lilt heightens and enhances these, using the supernatural situation to tease out little twists and takes on them, as well as milk out some fantastic moments of comedy.
What helps a lot is the incredible detail Roulston writes his characters. There is so much complexity and depth to all three of them that they’re all ravishing to watch: from the fretful and anxious Hunter, to the bitchy but broken ambition of Gandy, and the seductive charms and whims of Brenn. They all feel real: even Brenn, who, if you need reminding, is a centuries old dragon! These characters and their believable flaws and motives completely captivate you, and you’re absolutely engaged to see what becomes of them. Not to mention the amount of nuance and observations that Roulston pours into them making them intricate and problematic people. The fact that Deal with the Dragon has this fairy tale lilt means that the very human and intense problems embedded in the show suddenly have a air of unpredictability and newness in how they might feed into Deal with the Dragon’s inspired setting, that is simply sumptuous.
But the main thing about Deal with the Dragon’s fantasy feel is that it’s surprisingly familiar. Fairy tales and Disney films form a large part of most people’s childhoods. Deal with the Dragon is, in essence, a modern mystical fable with gay characters and issues, transporting you into a make believe world that is dynamic, exciting and yet completely plausible.
Direction & Production
Deal with the Dragon might look bare bones, but the direction and production is as superb as Roulston’s writing and performance. With nothing but a chair, some twigs hanging from the rig, and a book of matches, Deal with the Dragon still manages to come alive as a fully fledged piece of fantasy theatre. There is some great lighting design that helps fill in the dark void with shades of atmosphere, not to mention some impressively effective fade-outs. Likewise, the sound design also does an excellent job at aurally filling in the blanks. Both, are incredibly responsive to Roulston’s performance too, making the entire show feel live and dynamic.
Directorially, unlike most North American shows, Deal with the Dragon involves the audience: mostly in talking directly or indirectly through the fourth wall. The pacing is not so rigid that Roulston is unable to work with the response from the room, adding a real sense of dynamism to Deal with the Dragon.
Roulston is just out rightly a superb character performer. He embodies each character in Deal with the Dragon wholly and convincingly. Even in the rapid switching back and forth between two at time, whilst it might feel awkward the very first time it happens, you eventually fail to see the seams anymore or remember that every one of them is still Roulston. Roulston, across all of his characters, but especially as smouldering and sexually alluring Brenn, excludes a charisma and presence that you just can’t shy away from, although why you’d want to is a mystery.
Deal With the Dragon is a gripping and dark gay twist on fairy tales that will leave you hexed.
Deal with the Dragon plays at C- Venues, C Nova (venue 145), Edinburgh, EH1 2EX, until 29 August 2016. Tickets are £9.40 – £10.50 (concessions available). To book, visit tickets.edfringe.com.