When Oliver Emanuel’s Dragon first appeared on Scottish stages in 2013, it seemed like a one-off theatrical experience, a unique and spectacular show for young people co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland with Vox Motus of Glasgow, and the Tianjin People’s Art Theatre of China. The show told the story of a boy whose grief following the death of his mother takes the shape, in his mind, of a dragon which grows ever larger; and it scored a huge international success, not least at the Edinburgh International Festival of 2015.
Emanuel had more to say, though, about bereavement and its impact on young people; and in May of this year – after a brief 2020 appearance in film form, in the National Theatre of Scotland’s lockdown Scenes For Survival series – his new play on this theme finally reached the stage, in the shape of I Am Tiger, a beautiful one-hour solo show co-produced by Perth Theatre and Scotland’s children’s theatre organisation Imaginate. The show featured stunning and spectacular design by Jamie Vartan and lighting designer Simon Wilkinson; and it found its perfect performer in young Scottish actress Chloe-Ann Tylor, from East Lothian, who graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2016.
“I remember receiving the script last year, after a long day working on another project, and sitting up in bed reading it,” says Tylor, “and before I knew it, I was reading big chunks of it out loud to myself, something that has never happened to me on a first reading before. The rhythm of the writing was just so strong, and so implicit to the feeling of the play.
“And then I was just captivated by the humanity and complexity of Oliver Emanuel’s writing about grief. The impact of suicide has come close to me once or twice in my life, and I’ve also had some mental health struggles of my own; so although this was my first-ever solo show, I really felt ready to do it.”
Tylor’s performance as Laura won widespread acclaim at Perth Theatre and the Traverse, where it appeared as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival; and it added another notable achievement to what has been a strikingly varied and vivid live theatre career since 2016, ranging from Close Quarters, an intense drama about women soldiers staged at the Sheffield Crucible in 2018, to last year’s superb Grid Iron Fringe show Doppler, in the woods at Newhailes House in Edinburgh.
Now, Tylor is preparing to appear in another solo show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe: Eve Nicoll’s new play Svengali, a co-production between the Pleasance and Pitlochry Festival Theatre about a young woman’s strange and seductive relationship with a hypnotic male mentor.In this Session specially recorded for The Scotsman, though, Tylor returns to the character of Laura, and the moment when her parents present her with her absolutely unexpected gift.
“It was an exceptional experience, performing I Am Tiger,” says Tylor. “Adult audiences seemed to respond very strongly to both the tragedy and the humour of the script. But I noticed that younger teenage audiences seemed more silent, although very absorbed in it; and I think that’s because the subject of this play cuts very close to home, for many of them, and reflects many of their day-to-day emotional struggles.
“So Is the tiger real, or just a metaphor? I’m not sure. But Lu Kemp and I decided, in rehearsal, that in order to make the story work, we had to believe the tiger was real; and perhaps that’s true for the audience, too.”
Chloe-Ann Tylor will be in Svengali at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, from 3-28 August, as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, www.edfringe.com