There is no dragon in The Dragon and George. There is a character named Sir Dra'gon. Yet I don't think this quite fulfils the promise of the show's title. Nor does this production, from elite private school Milton Abbey, really fulfil the promise it makes to students and parents of giving its young cast a meaningful experience of the Edinburgh Fringe. The school has underestimated the festival's commercial and artistic demands, with the performance attended mostly by comp-ticket holders and lacking considerably in several elements of the performance.
The story has something like the structure of a Mummer's play, with Sir George (Hamish Gardner) picking a fight with Sir Dra'gon (Edmund Fulford) whom he knocks out in one round of combat before Dra'gon is revived, ready for a second. Its aesthetic is fairy-tale medieval, with the two combatants fighting for the hand of the kingdom's heir Princess Una (Vicky Fraser). The script is largely exposition, with chances at humour largely found in references to anachronistic technology: characters stopping to check their mobile phones and that sort of thing. One gag – Dra'gon throws bills carelessly over his shoulder as he rifles through his post – is taken from a 1997 episode of The Simpsons. It has an immature style and I was surprised to discover that its author – J G Bradbury – is actually one of the pupils' teachers.
It is easy to guess what elements of theatre practise the children have and haven't worked on in class. They don't seem to have done much vocal work, with many in the company lacking clarity; but they have done a little on matching movement to character, which helps them to show status and power in the play very well. Particularly good is the stage fighting, every cut and thrust of which is immaculately choreographed and performed with gusto. Gardner is excellent in the lead role, with real stage presence, perfect diction and adds a touch of charming casualness to the script's many asides. There has also been an immense amount of effort – and perhaps investment – put into costume, with the cast looking splendid in thick, brightly coloured capes and impressively detailed pieces of armour.
The Edinburgh Fringe is a difficult place for almost any performer and for some in this company it was their first time treading the boards at all. It is important to find real, external audiences for work produced in school, but it also important to bring the right work to the right audience at the right time. Therein lies the thing that The Dragon and George seems to have missed: what can this play give its audience that no other play can? What gives it its urgency? The pupils have done a good job of holding the show together, but the answers hanging in the air – a learning experience, pupils' university applications – don't really cut it.