Jason and the Argonauts
Visible Fictions touring to Glasgow, Drumnadrochit, Elgin, Mallaig and Newtonhill until
Visible Fictions is touring small theatres and community halls with Jason and the Argonauts in a version it recommends for P5 and older pupils.
Douglas Irvine, the company's artistic producer, is the director and clearly not a man to shirk a challenge. His first step was to commission Robert Forrest to script the epic for a 75-minute production with only two actors.
As it happens, there is a very conspicuous third "performer": a weighty piece of wooden furniture, designed by Robin Peoples, that starts life as an ox cart and, to great applause, turns first into the Argos and finally into the Land at the End of the World.
Simon Donaldson and Tim Settle are the two furniture movers, and the players of all the many human and mythical creatures of the story, the witches, monsters, bronze sea birds, even the clashing rocks. Josh (Simon Donaldson) is the bright-eyed, inspired story-driver; Andy (Tim Settle) would rather play at being Superman. Together they ease us into the epic with gentle comedy.
Welcome as humour is at the outset, the jokiness lingers on throughout the performance, long after the point when perhaps the excitement and involvement in the story should be all-absorbing. This uneasy tone may be a kind of acknowledgement that the production sometimes struggles to match its imagination with the shock and awe of Jason's encounters on his prodigious journey (no easy matter on a virtually bare stage in a low-tech touring version).
Although the actors blitz their way through the story with a winning commitment and up-front appeal, a tough thread of continuity would have helped them to carry the audience through the wild and whirling narrative.
Instead, the production makes a positive virtue out of inconsistency: the puppets to represent the sailors are exact dolls, the bronze birds are simple paper darts; the actor who wanted to play Superman is the one who has already made the Argos.
Oddly lacking was the any reasonable context for the performance. The best of these small-cast epics, which have been very popular over the past three decades, have always recognised the importance of establishing an identity for the performers and a meaningful relationship between them, as well as giving them a reason for going to such lengths of impersonation for our sakes.
Young audiences may not bother their heads over this, however, and for primary teachers wanting to use the production to stimulate their personal and social development work, the theatre company's website gives some helpful resources. The focus is on the hero, inviting classes to decide on what makes heroic qualities and when and where they might be useful.
They might now also want to read the story; the company would like that.