Jason and the Argonauts

Valentina Ceschi and Thomas Eccleshare
Unicorn Theatre
Unicorn Theatre (Weston Theatre)

Guy Rhys, Dorian Simpson, Dylan Townley and Valentina Ceschi Credit: Helen Murray
Valentina Ceschi as Medea, Dylan Townley as Orpheus, Dorian Simpson as Jason, Guy Rhys as Polydeuces Credit: Helen Murray
Valentina Ceschi as Medea and Jason Credit: Helen Murray
Dorian Simpson as Jason Credit: Helen Murray
Guy Rhys as Calais and Valentina Ceschi as Zetes Credit: Helen Murray
Guy Rhys as Hercules Credit: Helen Murray

Developed from company improvisations, this idiosyncratic retelling of Greek myth begins with a “Game ended” announced in the darkness.

Gods Hera (Valentine Ceschi) and Zeus (Guy Rhys) are playing hero games on their cosmic computer and it seems Hera keeps winning. Zeus says she always cheats and he’ll only go on if he gets to choose the hero. He wants someone who is stupid.

So who does he chose? Jason! It’s true that sweeping the floor in his baseball cap he doesn’t look very bright and being fat doesn’t help. He’s not all that stupid, though he does need to look to his diet, and it turns out he’s a prince. His father was the King of Iolcos but he was murdered when Jason was little.

Dorian Simpson is delightful as Jason. He gives him an open personality and makes him someone that anyone would want to befriend. He’s a lad a young audience can identify with, his eyes wide awake as he extends his horizons. Simpson plays him with a light touch that can take him from joy to despair in a moment.

He can’t believe it’s a goddess who’s talking to him and demands proof; he gets chocolate bars from the sky and a Big Mac delivered by Hermes (stage management making brief appearances). “I can make your dreams a reality,” she tells him. He asks to get his crown back and she tells him to set sail for Colchis and bring back the Golden Fleece.

Jason then gets to choose his crew: not so many as in traditional tellings. They include Atalanta, a fantastic archer and fastest of hunters, musician Orpheus, Calaïs and Zestes (twin children of the North Wind), Polydeuces (another twin, brother of Castor) and Hercules, found beating up egg white and wearing an apron that pictures a muscle man who is accompanied by his squire the beautiful Hylas in the form of an action man figure (no, the play doesn’t explain that relationship).

They set out on their travels with a compass-come-sat-nav, supplied by Hera, that soon breaks down. Hylas disappears when they make brief landfall at Mysia. Hercules stays behind trying to find him then the wind twins are killed in Thrace in a battle with harpies so it is a tight group that reach Colchis. (That’s just as well with a cast of just four who somehow also play all the rest of the characters.)

By this time, they have sailed through tempests and had many other encounters. There isn’t time for all the Argonaut adventures but they include Polydeuces defeating a giant boxer who dwarfed him to win their escape from Bithynia and, thanks to Atalanta’s archery, passing through the clashing rocks of the Symplegades. Now aided by Princess Medea, they face fire-breathing bulls and the skeleton army of King Aeëtes, until Orpheus’s music subdues the many-headed Hydra, and reach the object of their expedition.

Jason and the Argonauts is fast-paced and fun, not least in the way the cast keep reappearing as different characters, gods and kings and monsters. Ceschi alone is Hera, Medea, Zestes, a TV newswoman, a boxing match presenter, a bull, a skeleton, blind King Phineas and probably more!

Guy Rhys is also kept busy bringing a lively personality to Polydeuces, Zeus, CalaÏs and a slightly comic edge to glittering royal baddies so that when they get their come-uppance its not vicious. There’s nothing gory. The murderous intervention of Medea in getting the fleece is missing.

Changes are greatly helped by James Button’s costumes, while his setting of colourful ladders and a geometric stage cloth is a frame for a clear-cut performance with lots of atmosphere aided by Richard Williamson’s lighting and Harry Black’s music and sound design which includes a lively Argonaut crew song and Dylan Townley’s Orpheus plays his latest release.

It’s a show to stir the imagination and, though a couple of action sequences are a fraction too extended, losing the attention of some youngsters, victories and the gaining of the Golden Fleece (a shimmering gold blouson under curving horns) were greeted with cheers and the ending with enthusiastic applause.

It is a little too wordy for the youngest children, especially when delivered at this pace and with all those strange Greek names, but school age should love it and adults enjoy it too. Favourite with the audience I saw it with was the way the Stygian birds dive bomb Jason with their poo.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton