The Wawel Dragon, The Scoop, London ★★½

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

The Scoop, the amphitheatre nestled in the shadow of London’s City Hall, plays host every year to a season of free theatre, the same company of actors performing a family-friendly show in early evening, followed a longer piece less appropriate for younger children. 2016’s former of these is an adaptation of a legend from Polish folklore largely unknown to children brought up on the fairy tales of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, but which largely conforms to their template.

Rachel Delooze makes a moderately feisty Queen Wanda, happy to rule alone but cajoled into hunting for a husband. The downside is that, due to an ancestral run-in with an Ice Goddess, Wanda has a heart of ice and can freeze anybody with the slightest sneeze. Willmott’s adaptation cheerfully acknowledges the similarity to a certain Disney film of recent years (references to a “cousin Elsa” abound) but this musical tale is no Frozen. Of the three suitors, the bumbling Prince Bolek (Alec Porter) is sweetly engaging, while Zac Hamilton’s demonic Prince Savrog is marked out as a bad guy from the word go, whether as a consequence of his cocky narcissism or the fact that his manservant (Steve Graney) is a wolf.

As the hero, Aran MacRae’s inventor Skuba is a likeable, roguish figure, backed up by Lizzie Frain as his sister (and Wanda’s maid) Klara, while Theo Holloway’s polka tunes give the show some much-needed pep.

It is when Bolek transforms himself into the eponymous dragon that the stakes, such as they are, increase, as it threatens to eat the maidens of the land unless the Queen agrees to marry him. The full-scale puppet dragon is certainly impressive in scale, although even at the start of this production’s run it is already showing some signs of wear and tear. It proves no match, however, for Skuba’s street-talking, street-dancing clockwork sheep, Serafina. In this role, Jasmeen James provides the definite highlight of the performance.

Overall, though, the production has a tendency a little too much towards pantomime, and the final confrontation with the dragon happens off stage, rendering the story’s conclusion an immense anti-climax.

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