— Production poster
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
How do you perform a Greek myth for kids as young as seven when it’s filled with murderous kings, terrifying creatures, complex discussions of destiny, and characters with names like Euphemus and Hephaestus? If you’re Visible Fictions—two grown-up guys from Glasgow—you play at it, the way kids would.
Carousel Theatre for Young People is presenting Visible Fictions’ production of Jason and the Argonauts at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island for ages seven and above, and it’s a hoot. The kids at the matinee I attended never seemed freaked by the monsters or confused by the complicated plot and obscure names. And the parents … hardly ever.
Simon Donaldson and Tim Settle play all the parts, switching back and forth in the lead role of Jason, just one of many interesting theatrical conventions they establish that the kids easily accept. Donaldson is younger and better looking; Settle thicker and older, in undershirt and suspenders. But he’s also the goofball of the two and the kids’ favourite, always sharing a wink with them. “That was scary,” he confides after one king mimes cutting off the other’s head, and he gets a big laugh.
Another way they connect with the kids is through action figures that represent the characters they play. The actor playing Jason also carries a Jason doll. And the Argonauts, though called by their Greek names, are represented by Spiderman and Incredible Hulk figures, a Ken doll and others.
There are loads of contemporary pop references: Titanic, Star Wars. But we also get Hamlet and lots of classic Greek stuff—and a good vomit joke and a lame “oui oui” joke. The show runs the gamut from highbrow to lowbrow and back again. And the kids know exactly when to laugh.
A key to the show’s success is Robin Peoples’ versatile set, an old wooden wagon the actors climb over and haul around the stage. When a battered suitcase full of props yields a boat made of folded newspaper, the wagon is cleverly transformed into a newspaper-clad boat the Argonauts sail to get the golden fleece.
All these transformations are as low-tech as the king’s cardboard crown: the clashing rocks (two boards Settle bangs against the wagon), the scary bird-monster (a stoop-shouldered actor and a chair), the fabulous inflatable tail of the dragon that guards the fleece.
There’s a reason why a play is called a play. This show reminds us that it has everything to do with the endless imagination of childhood.