Are the ancient Greek gods really ever on the side of humans – or is it all just a game to them? That question is the motor for this brightly modern take on the Jason myth for children: in Thomas Eccleshare and Valentina Ceschi’s devised production, Hera and Zeus are playing a computer game, with Jason and the Argonauts their avatars.
Each challenge Jason faces on his quest to find the golden fleece and take back control of his father’s kingdom becomes a new level; the familiar, hyperactive bleeps of a video game accompany each fresh victory. Within this framework, the company use various other shiny pop-culture riffs to play very loose with the basic myth, from televised boxing matches to hyped TV game shows (‘Get Fleeced’).
Jason (Dorian Simpson) starts off as the least likely hero in town: a chubby cleaner in a backwards cap, searching for his next McDonalds rather than his destiny. But, naturally, his plucky quest comes with a wholesome message – once he realises that, no matter what the gods say, it’s better to look after your mates than be an all-conquering hero, Jason actually does find his own bravery. It helps that a kick-ass, rebellious goth named Medea also lends a hand…
The company of four play a multitude of roles, with Ceschi particularly mercurial in whizzing between larger-than-life characters. A lo-fi show, lighting and sound are effectively used to evoke all manner of mythical beings, with performer-musician Dylan Townley‘s squalling, growling electric guitar working overtime. A set of colourful ladders lightly hints at a ship’s rigging, but overall it’s not noticeably nautical – still, you can’t fault their energy and ambition in attempting to create an ocean-crossing epic with so little.
Narratively, however, there are a lot of elements to this episodic tale, plus hastily squeezed in backstories for Argonauts such as Orpheus and Atalanta. It risks being a bit too much to take in for an audience of 6-12 year olds. To be honest, all those tricky Greek names flying around, and all the different characters coming and going in the flick of a costume, are at times a challenge for anyone to keep up with…
Still, there are moments of gross-out humour that clearly land satisfyingly with the young crowd: splats of green harpy poo and "Thriller"-worthy jerking skeleton soldiers prompt disgusted, delighted shrieks. All four performers have an engaging warmth, and the music of the show also helps carry it: Townley, as a slightly beleaguered, gangling Orpheus who longs to sing his pop songs, seems especially taken to the hearts of the children watching.
Jason and the Argonauts is at the Unicorn until 20 October.