SCOTLAND’S INTERNATIONALLY-feted Visible Fictions Theatre Company are en route to Galway for the Baboró Festival to bring their ebullient staging of the epic adventures of Jason and the Argonauts.
Jason’s uncle is not exactly loveable. He has murdered his brother, the king, and stolen the crown and now no one dares stand up to him. Things are about to get a major shake up though because Jason has now returned!
After being banished as a baby, our trusty hero is back to claim his rightful throne and make some big changes. However, in ancient times, nothing is that straightforward. Jason and his crew must sail on The Argo to the other side of the world to find the Golden Fleece and bring it back in order to unite the people again.
As if that was not difficult enough, the odd monster, sleeping dragon, and clashing rock, endeavour to ruin his trip and spice things up on this most fantastic of journeys.
Described as “fast, funny and decidedly funky” (The Herald ) and “a winning take on ancient Greek myth” (New York Times ) this current tour of Jason and The Argonauts also marks Visible Fictions’ 21st anniversary. Speaking about Jason ahead of its Galway visit, Visible Fictions’ artistic director, Douglas Irvine, first reflected on the company’s on the company’s development since its formation.
“When we started out there wasn’t much young people’s work going on so we thought ‘Why not have a go at this’ and we began as a little profit-share group,” he recalls. “We’ve always set out to tell stories in as visually interesting a way as we could and we still place the writer very much at the centre of what we do.
“I became artistic director in 1998 and what has particularly excited me about where we have gone in the past few years is that it’s been very much about exploring different art forms within the work. These 21 years have been interesting seas that we’ve been riding our boats across and we’re waiting to see where we’re going to land.
“Without a doubt what has happened in that time is that Scotland’s status as a producer of young people’s work has been hugely increased not just from Visible Fictions, but there are many other talented artists dedicated to doing young people’s work which is brilliant.”
Moving on to Jason and The Argonauts, Irvine describes how the show came together.
“It was a beautifully, marvellous, creative process!” he asserts. “I always loved the Ray Harryhausen Jason and The Argonauts film with that beautiful stop-frame animation and his wonderful playing with scale. So I spoke to writer Robert Forrest who I’ve collaborated with before, and asked him how did he feel about doing a stage version of Jason and The Argonauts and his first reaction was ‘How in God’s name would we do that?’
“We spent a weekend with a couple of actors trying out all kinds of storytelling ideas and different approaches then one day someone suggested ‘What if we used action men?’ Once we brought them into the story, playing with them on a tabletop, Robert was hysterical with laughter and realised this was a way into the story for us.
“From there we developed it all further and it evolved and was a very much a back-and-forth process between the actors and creative team and Robert to bring us where we finally landed in this crazy, playful, anarchic, wonderful show.”
The kids are allright
I ask Irvine how Visible Fictions portrayed the various monsters which Jason encounters during his journey.
“One of the ways into the whole production, and many people comment on it, these two actors have been doing it for six years now, and they are grown men in their thirties and forties but when you see them onstage they behave like they are eight. They have this wonderful childlike spirit and we tapped into that.
“There was one moment where they encounter this huge sea-monster and we were really struggling to find a way to do it and then I suggested ‘What if we just act it out like kids in a playground?’ which is the most simple approach and they do it as a sort of joint-movement project so you’d have one person in front and the other right behind and he puts his arms through and presto, you have a multi-armed monster and when we tried it and the whole room started to laugh. It was hilarious and brilliant.
“When we get drawings from young people about the show that’s one of their favourite bits, they really latch onto it because we give them this trigger and they fill in the gaps about the monster much better than any of us could ever do.”
These ancient myths and fairytales often contain dark elements alongside the magic and rip-roaring adventure. How do Irvine and Visible Fiction approach those?
“When you’re choosing your material you’ve got to make it age-appropriate firstly, that’s really important,” he replies. “If you’re doing a story like Hansel and Gretel for example which has witchcraft, cannibalism, child abandonment, these are dark themes and if you’re doing it for five-year-olds you have to handle it very carefully, you don’t want to terrify them!
“But that said, I do think there is a place, in a safe way, to have a bit of fear and darkness as long as it is done safely and takes account of their developmental stages. There are moments in Jason and The Argonauts when they encounter the Harpies and it is done quite darkly and sinisterly and you can hear the young people giggling nervously because these monsters are scary.
“The way Tim does it you can hear them going ‘Oh nooo, nooo’, and he gives them a fright and then they all laugh so there is this wonderful mix because they know it’s safe and it’s all fine and it slips back into a bit of comedy after the darkness. I think we have a responsibility to young people to help them understand, in a safe way, what the world is, the world that they are part of.”
Irvine is also struck by the ways in which these ancient Greek myths can still resonate with issues in our own day.
“These stories still talk to us now,” he observes. “Without getting overly political, when we were first creating the show, it was around the time George W Bush was talking about invading Iraq and part of the story of Jason and The Argonauts is about carrying out business left unfinished by your father so this myth that is thousands of years old still has resonance for how things get done today.
“That’s the wonderful thing about these Greek myths, they go to this archetypal heart of human existence that make us still connect profoundly to them. Aside from all that this show is also one of the funniest things I have ever worked on, the two actors are genuinely hilarious and people come out having had a very life affirming 75 minutes in the theatre!”
Jason and The Argonauts is at the Town Hall Theatre from Wednesday October 17 to Sunday 21. Full details of performance times can be viewed on the Baboró and Town Hall websites. For tickets contact 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie