The Scoop is an enchanting venue next to City Hall, comprising an 800-seat concrete amphitheatre. On the top layer there's a bar and some people hiring out cushions (which are necessary on those concrete seats) and, crucially, the entertainment is completely free. Programmes are two pounds each and the money from their sale helps to fund the productions which are satisfyingly lavish.
The Steam Industry, under the directorship of Phil Willmott, play there every summer and this year they're concentrating on two Greek legends. First up is Jason and the Argonauts, presented as a frivolous family show with topical jokes and songs especially to interest the children; following it, for the adults, there's the terrifying revenge tragedy Medea by Euripides, in a new version by Stella Duffy.
Many of the cast play instruments and all are well trained in playing directly to the audience. Narrating the first piece is Ursula Mohan who begins with an amusing parody of “Oh for a Muse of Fire” which sets the jokey tone. Some of the play is in rhyming couplets and altogether rather pantomimic. We have the dragon and the giant bull fashioned with tissue paper and umbrellas and operated by members of the cast. We also have a bunch of Hellenic maidens who sing “We will survive” and turn into Harpies only to be seduced by Argonaut Narcissus (Christopher Hogben) who woos them very prettily with “You can take my breath away”.
Jason is set up in the first piece as a bit of an idiot, self-obsessed, on the make and bewitched by any woman that falls into his orbit - and the play is nearly over before he realises that without Medea he is nothing. This sets him up for his awful betrayal of his loyal wife in the second half of the evening.
Medea is of course a very different beast. The chorus is represented by an army of reporters and paparazzi who follow the Royal Personages around marking their dialogue and making radio bulletins of the happenings into their microphones. Again we have narration from Ursula Mohan as the Nurse and Joe Fredericks and Siobhan O’Kelly repeat their roles as Jason and Medea. Duffy's neat script is handled well and without inhibitions, and one is reminded that this is the kind of arena in which these great dramas were first played out.
The plays are presented separately during the week, but at the weekends they are played back-to-back. It is really worth seeing them both in one go, because although the productions are so different, they're a tidy pairing, and Medea in particular highlights the progression of the characters as well as the versatility of the actors playing them.
- Aline Waites