Oct 03

Fall into the dark suspense of Vertigo Theatre’s ‘Nine Dragons’

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Vertigo Theatre, Gateway Theatre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s world premiere of Nine Dragons takes a step in the world of mystery from a different viewpoint and a step towards addressing the lack of diversity on stage. The play is a thriller written by Jovanni Sy, taking place in Kowloon, Hong Kong in 1924. It is a deep dive into a world of privilege, wealth, tension around race, drugs and murder. It is peering into the darkness within characters who strive to dilute their lives until they can’t feel anything. Nine Dragons is complex mystery with edge of your seat drama.

In Kowloon, there is a serial killer on the loose. He has killed three women with his most recent kill being an upper class English woman, gaining the police’s attention. Chief Inspector Nigel Dunston-Smith (Duval Lang) is irritated that he was woken up at one o’clock in the morning about this case. Not only does he have Senior Inspector Paul Beverly (Scott Bellis) on the case but they also bring on Inspector Tommy Lam (John Ng). He is the only Chinese man in the police force and is continually trying to prove himself.

The particular signature of the killer is that he cuts off the hands and tongues of his victims. But to keep Tommy on a short leash and to make sure he knows his place (racially and in rank) they partner him with Inspector Heaney (Toby Hughes), a Scottish policeman who hasn’t worked on a homicide case before. Also assisting on the case is the coroner Dr. Mary Weir (Natascha Girgis) and the man of interest is Victor Fung (Daniel Chen). As Tommy delves deeper and deeper into the dark world of murder, he gets more in over his head and starts to lose his grip on what he’s doing it for.

The drama unfolds on a set with clean lines, designed by Scott Reid. He has walls slide from the sides and cast members pull set pieces in and out. Anton de Groot’s lighting design and Andrew Blizzard’s sound design compliments the moodiness of the narrative while Jamie Nesbitt’s projection design is groundbreaking. It acts as a whole other character in the play and is jarring, beautiful and dark.

When Tommy takes the tram of the peak, Ng stands in the centre of the stage and the projection animates at his feet, displaying images of railways passing beneath him. In the police office, the projection has ceiling fans turning slowly on the stage floor. At times in the background the projection is smoke, drifting to the sky. It is spectacular to watch a theatre company animate a complete 7th character instead of having an actor stand in for a couple minutes. It signifies that Vertigo is taking its production into a whole other realm of innovation and invention.

Craig Hall’s direction lets Sy’s words stand on their own. And the script pulls no punches about ranks and race. Tommy is criticized by others on how he doesn’t play the game, even though he is a talented inspector. It is abundantly clear that its his race that holds him back. He has a reputation and he gets the job done, but his darkness haunts him. His past is a storm of grief and it drives him to prove himself.

Ng strikes a balance in this role as he portrays Tommy’s reserved and private nature, but when he is on stage with Girgis, it is hard to buy into their chemistry. He barely shows any emotion and maybe that illustrates how his character has to be in order to not lose himself. Chen by contrast is slippery, charming and softer. He has money and power and it shows in the way he moves. He wants honesty but he isn’t honest himself. Girgis is solid as Mary Weir, depicting her clinical approach to life.

Jovanni Sy’s Nine Dragons is a smart examination of the drug trade. It looks at the consequences from a wide lense, and then focuses on the stories told because of addiction and power. It’s fascinating, beautiful and dark. It’s commendable that Vertigo Theatre, Gateway Theatre, and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre have worked together to bring this world premiere to the stage.

Vertigo Theatre’s production of Nine Dragons runs until October 15th. More information about the show and ticketing is available online.

 

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