The Golden Dragon marks the English-language premiere of one of Germany's most lauded new plays. Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig and brought to the stage by Actors Touring Company and Drum Theatre Plymouth, this play explores modern life and migration. Ramin Gray, Artistic Director of ATC and director of The Golden Dragon, explores some of the challenges of the production.
A play about Chinese migrants with no Asian actors? Controversial? Not at all. Roland Schimmelpfennnig's The Golden Dragon has been a huge success in its native Germany and around the world. But the English-language premiere will have to surmount our expectation that social realism, the dominant theatrical aesthetic of these isles, is the only way for us to represent these characters and situations. Our theatre, in its obsession with social mapping and naturalism, creates expectations that we will cast actors as closely as possible to the real biography of the people they portray: if you have the character of a young Asian chef, then find a young Asian actor and let that community be represented on stage. Because if you represent them, then audiences from that community will come to the theatre and hey presto, we’ll have an integrated and harmonious society.
However, Schimmelpfennig's play goes wonderfully against all that, reclaiming a lost world of imagination and playfulness: here actors will play anything but themselves, stretching to occupy biographies, genders, ethnicities and even, on occasion, species that are distant to them and also to us, the audience. And here lies the genius of the play: these acts of imagination and empathy are how all theatre works but by emphasising and stressing the leap required for say, a 78 year old British actress to portray an Ant, Schimmelpfennig brings into focus what we all have to do every day in order to attain and maintain a healthy openness to the other. Through imagination, through watching the struggle of actors to occupy difficult, distant and implausible positions, we all are encouraged to attempt, in our lives, to feel the pain and possibility of other lives. And that may truly help to nurture and sustain a sense of social harmony.
The Golden Dragon runs from the 4-28 August (excl Mondays) at the Traverse Theatre. Times vary.