The legends of Ancient Greece have continued to weave their magic through our imaginations for over two thousand years. The capricious Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus playing with the fates of ordinary mortals for both good and ill. But from the ranks of those mortals came the fabled heroes, those who rose to the challenges and won out despite all. Odysseus taking on the mighty one-eyed giant Cyclops. Theseus defeating the monstrous Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete. Jason and his Argonauts travelling far and risking everything in search of the Golden Fleece.
This last provides the basis for our winter production. But don’t worry, you won’t need a degree in the classics to work out what’s going on. This is a very loose interpretation of the myths handed down over the centuries. Jason and Medea are two mixed-up kids, an orphan and a runaway, who suddenly find themselves tasked with overthrowing the evil tyrant King Pelias. With a certain amount of divine intervention, Jason becomes the captain of the mighty ‘Argo’, a ship capable of crossing the uncharted seas, with a crew of oddball heroes including the world’s strongest (and possibly clumsiest) man, a wonderful woman warrior, a resting rock star, the least identical twins ever and a seriously streetwise cat. Now he must set off and find the Golden Fleece. If only he knew what it was. And then there are the challenges. The man-eating Harpies of Lemnos, the terrible Clashing Rocks, the fire-breathing Great Bull of Colchis, the evil Dragon Snake and Talos, the bronze giant. (Who might just be a really cool sock puppet.) Not to mention The Sirens…
Medea, Jason and his misfit Argonauts are here this December to have fun. This will be no ordinary adventure tale, but one with songs and laughter, and we’ll be encouraging you to join in, whether you’re five or sixty five. Ever fancied rowing the Argo? You’ll get your chance. Become part of the undead army of skeleton warriors? Oh yes.
The award-winning author of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, Phil Willmott, is mainly famous around these parts for his creation of the hilariously stiff upper-lipped ‘Dick Barton – Special Agent’ spoofs that were so much a part of the sadly demised Warehouse Theatre in Croydon. But he’s written, adapted and directed numerous productions, many derived from classical sources, and we’re more than pleased to link up with him again.
David Morgan writing as Inside Croydon’s theatre critic Bella Bartock, reviewing the show on Thursday 16th December 2021.
BELLA BARTOCK donned her mask and Covid passport and after picking up her old friend Claudia de Boozy from outside Purley Tesco, set off for a big night out in Coulsdon.
Claudia was waiting as my Rolls rolled up. “I am so excited to be back, getting out and watching a live show again,” Claudia said, her cheeks a little redder than could be accounted for simply by the rouge she’d applied. “I’ve got my gold lamé fleece on. It is Jason and the Argonauts we are going to see, isn’t it?”
I nodded. I’d lost count of the number of times I’d explained to Claudia in the week beforehand that we were returning to the Coulsdon Community Centre where, before the dreaded plague, the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon regularly used to perform professional-looking productions, and that this was most definitely not a pantomime. “Oh no it isn’t,” I remember telling her.
“Funny choice for a Christmas show,” Claudia said as she slid along the back seat of the Roller. “Still, I’m up for it. I even had moussaka for my tea.”
And then she asked again, “They’ll have masks, won’t they?” “Of course they will,” I tell her.
I explained that I had an email from that nice man Paul Ford, the chap who helps to run TWC, and that everyone has to wear a mask in the theatre. Claudia’s mind was elsewhere, though.
“No dear, I mean Greek masks. For the chorus. They always wear them. I do hope there’s a chorus. I went to see a Euripides play years ago in Epidaurus when I was on holiday.” Another triumph for travel broadening the mind as well, I thought to myself, Claudia’s waistline.
With a smile of triumph, as we walked into the community hall, Claudia pointed to the stools on the dais to the right of the stage. “Look!” she shrieked far too loudly not to be noticed by the other early arrivals. “Greek masks! Look! On the stools! That’s where the chorus will sit!”
Sure enough, the cloaked figures assembled and with a rich variety of voices took us through the plot, set the scene or gave advice as required.
When you get to my age, you know a show is going well because you don’t notice that the seats are too uncomfortable. And so it was here, as time seemed to fly by. Even Claudia was so rapt that she was quiet for a bit.
The large cast of more than 20 amdram enthusiasts from around the Coulsdon area took us through an original script with a confident, well-rehearsed air. It has been written by actor and director Phil Willmott, the man behind the re-creation of Dick Barton – Special Agent as a stiff-upper-lipped comic character for the much-missed Warehouse Theatre.
Our heroes, Jason (played by 16-year-old Max Parris) and Medea (Daisy Worby, also just 16), crafted their roles with thought and sensitivity. They were ably supported by the rest of the cast, who with comic touch and appropriate ad lib, guided them through the complex web of mystery, magic and mayhem. Claudia couldn’t stay schtum for too long though. Her first moment of mirth in the play was when the punchline of Medea’s joke was Euripides. “I’ve seen one of his plays!” she blurted out.
The nasty King Pelias (Joe Wilson) had to sit and watch the story evolve in front of him, expecting a sticky end but not the one he was anticipating. “Wicked rulers never learn, they are too busy plotting and scheming.” Or waiting for their unicorn pie to cook, as the script revealed. Claudia was much taken by the comic interludes of the Crone (John East) and the Fishwife (Bruce Montgomery). Perceptive as ever, she nudged me in the ribs and whispered, knowingly, “They’re men dressed up.”
In this modern take on an ancient myth, some interesting new characters appear in the boat, The Argo, built and steered by Argos (Chris Argles). Castor and Pollux are played by Luke Argles and Fran Auletta, convincing as the telepathic, argumentative, identically non-identical twins. Atalanta (Rosa Ruggeri) showed her fighting qualities but it was Heracles (Rory Curnock Cook) and Orpheus (Peter Bird) who brought the most to the motley crew. Heracles’ booming voice gave a wobble to everyone’s eardrum. His huge frame was equally impressive. “He’s nearly coming out of that leopard skin costume,” giggled Claudia, who visibly jumped in her seat when she heard him say the word “moussaka”. Orpheus brought his musical skills to bear in helping to soothe a tense moment in the script and to ring the celebrations at the end.
The script and the director, that nice Mr Ford, gave licence for the more experienced cast members to develop their characters. Richard Lloyd’s King Aeetes, dressed in a Cossack fur hat and speaking with a Russian accent, was comically sinister.
“But it was the music,” Claudia said in the car on the way home. “Those Sirens were marvellous. You’re doing a review aren’t you? What about this for a headline? ‘Supreme Sirens Sing Sensationally’? Or what about ‘Sweet Singing Sirens in Syncopated Success‘?” You have to hand it to Claudia. She might be getting on a bit and even come across as dotty but she can be very astute. She was absolutely right about The Sirens. Whenever Tanya Alizai, Kimberley Argles and Rebecca Blanchard stood up and swayed in their black outfits, the audience was transfixed. Their brilliant vocal performance, ably supported by the showband directed by Jeannie Lewis, was a real highlight of the show. They were, like the title of their final number, Heroes.
One of their earlier songs, the 1950s classic I Put A Spell On You, was captivating. Claudia thought the man on the end of our row was being drawn towards the Sirens, just as the Argonauts were in the mythical story, until I pointed out he had dropped his programme and was reaching slowly forward to retrieve it.
There was so much to enjoy in the performance that the car journey home was hardly long enough to get a word in edge-wise with Claudia. But there was the elfin figure of Medea transforming into a bird; Chiron, the centaur with his wise words and shopping trolley wheels; the confident tuneful singing of the young leads; Miss Kitty the cat, who didn’t like getting wet.
As the Rolls purred its way into Purley, we chatted away, thoroughly content at what we had seen.
“Mind my bag,” said Claudia as I helped her out of the car. “It’s got my half-time mince pie in it. I didn’t eat it in the interval. I am going to have it when I get in with a last cup of tea.”
Then she asked, “When can we go to another show?”
She hadn’t yet seen the news on the television that evening. I told her I would let her know in the New Year. We both like a treat at the theatre.