Well, what sheer delight to be transported back to the Golden Age of heroes! From the off, in this fast-paced and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek version of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, we were treated to a tale of intrigue, treachery and heroism.
The scene is set initially in ancient Iolkos where we flashback to meet baby Jason (Jaiya Cathcart) and his parents, Alcimede and Aeson (Sonya Burganskaya and Kostya Shabunin), who offer us a charming snapshot of a loving family, yet one living in fear under the tyranny of Jason’s uncle, King Pelias (William Watkinson). The ensemble’s offering of the unmistakable Darth Vader motif sets the quasi-sinister tone immediately as William stepped from the chorus into the role of villain with abundant enthusiasm.
And what Greek myth doesn’t have a prophecy? Right on cue, a mysterious blue-lit quartet of prophets (Tom Wilson, Ellie Riley, Anqi Li, Sarah McDermott) issued their warning to Pelias that his downfall would be a ‘one-sandaled man’; the irony of the ensemble’s dismissive echoes of ‘one-sandaled man?’ was made comically crystal clear – Pelias need not concern himself with this prophecy! Then we cross to a humorously half-heartedly anxious Alcimede and Aeson, who pack off their son to grow up under the care and tutelage of Chiron (Maxim Read). Maxim made for a most believable tutor of heroes: his delivery gave just the right balance of genuine wisdom and comic stereotyping, and we were left hanging on his every word.
With the flashback at an end, it was time to meet the not-quite-yet hero with ‘amazing beauty’, Jason, brilliantly portrayed by George Stueck. The ‘significant one-sandaled moment’ was a delicious scene between Jason and the disguised goddess Hera (Lila Unlu) who was quite taken by this passing youth. Luckily the all-seeing powerful Athene (Lucy Peer) arrived just in time to prevent Hera from kissing the young Jason – this had not been part of the gods’ plan! And so fate continued on its course and he arrived back in Iolkos to a chorus of citizens offering this summary observation: ‘handsome, one shoe, intriguing’! A quick prophecy recap from the enigmatic seers heralded Pelias’ reappearance: William captured the tone of insincerity perfectly here as Pelias welcomed home his ‘long-lost nephew’, to the pantomime-like shock reaction of the chorus.
George offered us a Jason full of charm, kindness and youthful spirit throughout, yet he also understood the comic subtleties of the play. He skilfully delivered those key lines which showed Jason for the hero he really was: one who casually accepted a near-impossible quest from an evil uncle, even though he had not specified the details, and one who was helped at every turn by some god or a beautiful princess-witch called Medea… more about her later.
The ensemble nature of the production was ideal, suitably reminiscent of a 5th Century Athenian chorus of both tragedy and comedy: working together as one body, all dressed the same, responding to and commenting on the action of the main characters. Onstage throughout, the ensemble worked tirelessly to create visuals to relish: the full-bodied Argo looked majestic with its banks of oarsmen, their flapping tunics giving the impression of sails speeding the vessel onwards on its quest. Then there was the fearsome dragon, headed up (literally!) by Maxim Read, so cleverly pieced together with a soundtrack of fearful inhalations in crescendo.
Upon arrival at the various Greek cities, we were presented with vistas of bustling business: sellers selling, citizens chatting and even brawling locals who all welcomed the audience into the next stop on Jason’s journey. We even saw Mount Olympus rise before our eyes, a human pyramid with Jaiya Cathcart nimbly making the climb to the summit!
Despite Pelias’ hilarious efforts to sabotage construction, the Argo was now built (overseen by a strong performance again from Lucy as Athene) and off to Colchis they sailed in search of the Golden Fleece. Orpheus, Herakles and Hylas (Ivan Benham-Hermetz, Oscar Buck, Frankie Larter) led the crew in a rousing musical number where they pledge ‘fighting fair and debonair’. The sibling winds Kalias and Zetes, played energetically by Mali Abdulazizova and Rosy Bartley, gave their all to hasten the ship on. They laid anchor first on Lemnos, an island of strong women played by Jessica Carter, Lexi Copeland, Cece Isaac, Immy Griffith and Rosie Watts. They are ruled by King Thoas (Otis Vowles), but a weak-willed Jason needed the sense of Herakles (Oscar Buck) to prise him away from him, and particularly his daughter Hypsipyle (Brooklyn Abt), reminding him that ‘adventures, possible deaths’ are much more preferable!
On the next stop, Hylas, played warmly by Frankie Larter, is ensnared by a most captivating portrayal of a water-nymph (Siena Plant) and Herakles stayed to look for him. So, with some manpower down, Jason made his next stop and encountered Phineus the blind prophet (Freddy Garnham). Freddy portrayed this old soul with real sensitivity and we could not help but feel sympathy as the formidable Harpies (Tilly Hall and Sophie Lovett) swooped down to steal his food yet again.
With his advice received, Jason pressed on towards the Clashing Rocks which presented another show-stopping visual – such energetic rowing from both sides of the Argo! Stepping out from the ensemble and keeping us up to speed with the action were a trusty band of narrators on this whistle-stop tour of Greek cities: Tilly Gale, Honor McGuinness, Elyanna Oyediran, Aditi Sharma, Sophia Traynor, and Olivia Dos Anjos Araujo all spoke with surety and clarity and should be proud of their performance.
As Jason neared his final destination of Colchis, we journey ahead to meet its King, Aeetes (Ned Frost), who we find asleep and dreaming when the ghost of Phrixos (Piers Parladorio) appears and tenderly relates a sad tale, and another prophecy, setting the tone for a tough time for Jason when he arrives. After a quick pit-stop on the island of Ares where Jason met the lost daughters of Phrixos (namely Melas played by Lana Salami and Kytessoros by Olivia Dos Anjos Araujo), off they all go on the final leg.
The big arrival at Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece, is beautifully choreographed. The focus cleverly shifting from the king’s ‘meet and greet’ onto Medea’s (Lila Pramoj) enchanting arrival. Lila portrays this iconic character so cleverly and her performance is simply brilliant, playing Jason like a fool with her mock concern for his welfare and flippancy.
George continued to present Jason’s foolhardiness with gusto as he eagerly accepted King Aeetes’ challenges without knowing any specifics, with Ned as Aeetes being deliciously underhand. And so to said challenges – what a feast for the eyes! Terrifying fire-breathing bulls were conquered (thank you Medea’s fire-proof magic ointment!); fearsome skeleton warriors (including Alexandra O’Connor) sprang up from the ground to attack yet were swiftly directed to turn against each other (top tip, Medea!); finally the guardian of the Fleece itself, the dragon, was defeated by a mere sprinkling of magic powder. Here was a mesmerising display of the chorus members switching seamlessly between roles, with George taking centre stage as the brave ‘hero’, yet it was Medea’s effortless power that Lila made sure presided onstage. Still, Jason grabbed the glory of the Golden Fleece as Lila’s Medea watched with a glorious look of mock pity.
A final rendition of the uplifting Noble Argonauts number was the perfect way to round it all off on a musical high! A huge thank you to the wonderful Mr Young as Director – he has expertly navigated this Lower School ‘Argonaut’ crew on a quest for their best performance with fun, camaraderie and some very special memories made along the way too. To the ever-ready and ever-helpful theatre technicians, Harri and Keiran, and AV wizards Mark and Huw – well done and thank you.
Bravo to one and all!