Since 2003, The Scoop in London Bridge City has played host to a free open air theatre season overseen by artistic director, Phil Willmott. Come rain, shine or moonlight (unless the rain is too heavy) two productions are staged each night – one aimed at families, the other a classic text for older audiences.
This year’s family production is an adaptation of Polish folk story, The Wawel Dragon. The newly crowned Queen Wanda is looking for a husband, and sets her suitors the challenge of finding her heart’s desire. Wanda is a descendant of the Slavic goddess of winter nightmares, meaning that she has a heart made of ice; if she sneezes on someone she will freeze them, so she has all flowers (& pepper) banned from the castle as a precaution. She ends up with three suitors: servant & inventor, Skuba (who she has fallen in love with), Prince Bolek (who has fallen in love with a maid, Klara) & Prince Savrog (demi-god of fire). The latter does his best to do away with his competition, but when that fails he transforms into the Wawel Dragon – he demands a regular supply of maidens to eat, until the queen agrees to marry him. As you might imagine, given that this is a children’s show, there is a happy ending.
The production is set in “mythical Poland in the style of Victorian steampunk” – as it is based on folklore, any time setting can be appropriate, and the steampunk design is well executed & visually arresting. Obviously the set has to be used for both shows, so there is an element of practicality involved, but on the whole it works, even spewing out steam as the Wawel Dragon takes residence. Considering the tight budget the season runs on, the dragon puppet (more on the scale of War Horse than, say, Avenue Q) is impressive and well handled by the cast.
The text itself has a proliferation of anachronisms (e.g. boyfriend) and the show feels a bit like a pantomime (e.g. audience participation). It is, of course, aimed at families & children in particular, but I’ve seen several productions recently with a similar audience in mind (see The Lorax and 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips) that don’t resort to pantomime to make themselves accessible to children. As a result, it’s not really something for adults to sit & watch, unless you’re there as a parent or grandparent with children. There are a lot of musical numbers scattered throughout (adapted from Polish folk tunes by Theo Holloway) that are quite entertaining, but not especially memorable.
The cast give performances full of energy & gusto, doing their best to engage with the younger members of the audience. Rachel Delooze & Aran MacRae make for an endearing couple as Queen Wanda & Skuba, and Jasmeen James later appears as a surprisingly bolshy clockwork sheep, but the real star performance comes from Zac Hamilton as Prince Savrog.
As the prince, he is arrogant to the extreme (“Would you like to see me in profile? You’re welcome.”) but with a certain charisma to him. He is particularly menacing as the eponymous beast, with the assistance of some microphone effects to alter the sound of his voice.
My verdict? Definitely a show most suited to a younger audience – with tongue-in-cheek Disney references & a wealth of songs, it’s a good way to end a family day out in the capital.
The Wawel Dragon runs at the Scoop (London Bridge City) until 25 September 2016. Entry is free – donations can be made & programmes bought on the day.