Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Jason and the Argonauts

Adapted from the ancient myths by Phil Wilmott
Steam Industry Free Theatre
The Scoop
(2009)

Production photo

Phil Wilmott has certainly come up with a real crowd pleaser for this year's summer family offering at More London's Scoop with this very free adaptation of the old story of the quest for the Golden Fleece. Although he does set up a couple of pointers to the tragedy of Medea (in the Euripides version which is the paired show this season), it is a light-hearted romp with plenty of catchy songs and dance routines. Its juvenile appeal is established early with the subjects of King Peleas of Iolcos referring to their sovereign as King Smelly-Arse, but what follows is lively theatre and more elevated humour.

Writer/director Wilmott sets up the storytelling as a troupe of touring actors performing the exploits of Jason and his companions on his boat (the Argos, hence the Argonauts) before King Peleas, who has sent the Argonaut heroes off on the dangerous voyage to fetch the fleece in the expectation that they will not survive it

It is a framing that makes self-referential use of doubling, effective 'poor-theatre' techniques and large scale puppetry, and the story gets recast and restructured to fit the troupe's resources. Its leader is an actor-manageress so perhaps it is not surprising that she plays Medea (who gets introduced early into the story as already in Iolcos) who joins the crew of Argos in disguise to make her part of the whole adventure.

Siobhan O'Kelly's slight Irish accent help mark Medea as an outsider but she's a charmer. In this version she is hardly a barbarian sorceress. Jason (Joe Fredericks) is not too bright but definitely one of the boys, Raymond Coker's King Peleas may be supposed to be a villain but he makes a delightful intervention to help the actors while Ursula Mohan's strong storyteller, pinching her style from Shakespeare, also pops up as a succession of sex-starved crones.

Everyone may be garbed from a classical dressing-up box but these Greeks have very modern personalities and attitude. Asked what will be useful for the voyage Jason suggests a credit-card. Along with his more usual companions twins Castor and Pollux (Jamie Menard and Matthew Grace - there is a running gag that they don't look like twins), Heracles (Paddy Crawley, who also plays a burly goddess in disguise) and Atlanta (Joanna Woodward), there is an A-list pop star called Narcissus (engaging Christopher Hogben) who could steal the show if he didn't get dumped among some man-mad Harpies early on the voyage, an a rapping ship's cat from Brixton (Briony Price) who turns out to be the goddess Artemis in disguise.

As well as puppet monsters that include a fire-breathing bull, a dragon and an army of skeletons, there is some lovely physical theatre with large umbrellas being both the oars of the Argos and the Symplegades, the clashing rocks which threaten to crush the ship, and a pair of gloves as the dove that gains them passage.

There is no room (nor cast enough) for the myth's fifty Argonauts on this ship and the plot compounds some of the adventures (and omits all those n the journey back) but that manages to pack everything into eighty minutes of rewarding entertainment. Take the kids - you'll all enjoy it - and as it says in Greek as a motto beneath an insignia of the good ship Argos on the purple backing of the simple set: 'Eleuthero Theatro gia Olous' it is 'Free Theatre for All.' It really doesn't cost a penny. Turn up in good time to make sure you get seats and if you enjoy it buy a programme or put a contribution in the collecting pails to help make sure the company is back with more free shows

At the Scoop (the outdoor arena next to City Hall near the southern end of Tower Bridge) until 6th September

Reviewer: Howard Loxton