The Golden Dragon
The fable of the ant and the cricket teaches a lesson in work ethics: during summer, the cricket spends their days singing in the shade, while the ant diligently harvests food for the coming winter. When the snows come, the starving cricket must beg the ant for assistance but the ant only rebukes their folly. In the world of German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, however, the cricket is offered salvation at a price.
This cautionary tale is interspersed into Schimmelpfennig’s 2009 work The Golden Dragon, serving as a counterpoint to the narrative’s moral concerns. The play takes place in the kitchen of the Golden Dragon, a Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese restaurant where an illegal worker is suffering from an agonising toothache. Unable to see a doctor, his co-worker uses a spanner to extract the infected molar, which careens through the air and lands in a customer’s Thai soup.
In this production, Andrew Bailey’s set design makes economical use of the small Lawler Theatre. Like a takeaway noodle box, a wooden shipping container flips open to unfold the restaurant’s kitchen, with Emma Valente’s versatile lighting expanding the possibilities of this compact space.
The five-member ensemble take on the restaurant’s various patrons, most of whom who live in an apartment complex upstairs. But here men play women, young play old and Westerners play Asians. While often comical, this technique denaturalises these various identities and the power (or powerlessness) that they assign. Like the cricket, the vulnerable are disregarded by a callous world. Director Daniel Clarke has assembled a superb cast; of particular note is newcomer Ash Flanders (one half of trash theatre duo Sisters Grimm), whose performance as the cricket is captivating.
Schimmelpfennig’s script renders language strange, with stage directions and vocal cues spoken aloud. Taking inspiration from early Brecht, this technique reminds us of the theatrical illusion and accents the drama’s politics, to both humourous and heartbreaking effect.
In this world, death is not the cricket’s punishment but their mercy.
The Golden Dragon is now showing at Melbourne Theatre Company's Lawler Theatre until July 7. For bookings or further information, visit mtc.com.au.