There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that HOME is an enormously valuable contribution to the cultural life of Manchester and beyond. And no doubt that the European-looking approach of its theatre director Walter Meierjohann is exactly the sort of brave and innovative attitude that the theatrical scene in this area (and the whole country) needs.
It’s a wild generalisation on my part, of course, but the more visual, director-led aspirations of a lot of contemporary European theatre really does seem to chime with the whole HOME ethos, and potentially offers a vital alternative to the endless round of the same old repertoire, bums on seats casting, and splashily spectacular options that can infest regional theatre.
Meierjohann’s infectious enthusiasm for this piece – “one of my all time favourite shows,” he says – has been widely reported and added to the sense of excitement that preceded its UK premiere.
But – and I’ll bet you guessed this was where we were heading – it grieves me to report that La Mélancolie Des Dragons is distinctly disappointing. Silly, but not silly enough to be more than mildly amusing here and there; apparently self-deprecating, yet irritatingly pleased with itself; and so languidly-paced that even the stoner rockers who make up the majority of the cast would surely in real life want to hurry things up a bit. All told, it underachieves and misfires in all sorts of ways.
Last night’s audience was left mostly mystified, with only pockets of enthusiasm for the production, while the literary, musical and pictorial references mostly had to be counter-productively pointed up late on in the show.
Evidently, director Philippe Quesne, co-director of the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers outside Paris, works according to a domino principle, by which the last scene of a show is the first one of the next. Thus, La Mélancolie des Dragons, first performed in Austria in 2008 and never previously seen in Britain, begins with the end of L’Effet de Serge, a play in which the main character created tiny special effects in his flat. So now you know.
Actually, it opens with a group of outlandishly bewigged hard rockers eating crisps in a stranded Citroën car in the middle of a snowbound landscape. Their engine will take a week to fix and they pass the time (which has stopped via a heavy-handed metaphor) by demonstrating their improbable amusement park to their would-be rescuer. Given that this basically consists of a projector, a smoke machine, a few wigs, many books and a number of big inflatable bin-bags, you might imagine that the amusement possibilities are limited – and you wouldn’t be wrong.
There are funny moments, such as the odd heavy-metal hit rendered on a recorder, but many, like the protracted cross-country skiing scene, simply fall flat. The ending, promised by Meierjohann to be “one of the most beautiful endings to a show you will ever see in the theatre” is sweet and engaging I suppose, but that’s about it. So, La Mélancolie des Dragons turns out to be a bit of a sad spectacle.
But onward and upward. I’m still looking forward to HOME’s next two productions, the visiting Golem (from October 7) and, more especially, its own, reportedly-radical take on The Oresteia (from October 23).
La Mélancolie Des Dragons is at HOME, Manchester until October 3, 2015