“Jason and the Argonauts” at Carousel Theatre (epic theatre for smart teens)

Every once in a while, I have the pleasure of reviewing a show presented by Carousel Theatre. Every once in a while, I also have the pleasure of guest-posting for my friend Raul Pacheco-Vega, of Hummingbird604.com.

Never before have I had the pleasure of doing both AT THE SAME TIME.

Well now I have.

The following is my review for Visible Fictions’ Jason and the Argonauts, being presented by Carousel Theatre until April 29th. To see my review in all its glory, please visit the actual post at Hummingbird604.com.

Heroes. Villains. A quest for destiny. Treachery. Sea monsters…Ken dolls?

Using only the contents of an old trunk and a wooden cart (designed with breathtaking cleverness by Robin Peoples), Scottish actors Tim Settle and Simon Donaldson of Glasgow’s Visible Fictions energetically retell the Greek myth of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece with intimacy, humour, and virtuosic performances. With shows at the Waterfront Theatre until April 29, Jason and the Argonauts marks the end of the 2011/2012 season of literary classics presented by Carousel Theatre.

Jason also marks one of Carousel Theatre’s first steps towards offering programming for older youth audiences and though younger children (age 7 and up) will still find much to enjoy, it is adolescents and teenagers (and their parents!) that will appreciate this ingenious retelling of the ancient story the most.

While at first your smarty pants youngster (or you) may be incredulous that the story of “like, 50 guys who are supposed to be on a boat with monsters and stuff, and you know, like, a beautiful princess” can be told effectively by only two actors (both men), the magic of Visible Fiction’s Jason and the Argonauts is not only found in the story itself, but in the way in which Settle and Donaldson are able to convey it using only their abilities as performers and the few props at their disposal (Ken dolls, paper boats, and sticks are used to great effect in this production). The gasps from the Saturday-night audience as the Argo appeared from seemingly nothing did not go unnoticed (or uncommented upon) by the actors. It is this back and forth between performers and audience, and this recognition of our intelligence and interest, which allows us to wholeheartedly root for the characters of “Andy” (Settle) and “Josh” (Donaldson) as they take on the telling of this epic quest for glory and justice.

Incredibly disciplined performers, Settle and Donaldson play the dramatic moments of the story as well as they do the comic ones, with real sorrow, tyranny, and danger all alive on the stage as Settle and Donaldson make switching from one character or scene to another look as easy as breathing. The show is charming, intelligent, and thoroughly entertaining.

Jason and the Argonauts is also a breath of fresh air from a continent whose tradition of theatre is centuries more well-established than our own, and therefore, whose expectations of their what their audiences will be able to engage with seem to be much greater. Precious few theatre companies (especially those who wish to be accessible to younger audiences) would be comfortable staging or presenting such a complicated two-hander, with worries that the constant switching between characters (and the lack of costume changes, etc. to indicate the switch) would make the show “too confusing” for audiences to follow. Visible Fictions trusted their actors to tell the story, and trusted their audience to follow it. Carousel Theatre has placed its trust in us and in its older youth audience as well, and guess what? We can follow Jason’s journey just fine.

In fact, due to Carousel’s practice of holding Q & A periods with the actors after every show (not just on a special “Q & A Night”), watching a more complex show like Jason and the Argonauts can also be incredibly instructive for those pre-teens and teens of yours who are interested in theatre. When I attended on Saturday, a large group of high school drama students were seated in the first two rows. I was impressed by their intelligent questions (see? We don’t need to “dumb down” great theatre!) and by Settler and Donaldson’s thorough replies about their training, rehearsal process, their lives as working actors, and the physical and psychological skills they employ to find and maintain so many different characters in one show.

It is wonderful to see a show that is both accessible and enjoyable AND assumes its audience to be sensitive and intelligent. I am excited that Carousel is pursuing programming for older youth audiences and hope to see more productions of the same caliber in their future seasons.

Jason and the Argonauts will be performed at the Waterfront Theatre until April 29, with school performances during the week and public performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:00 pm, with 2:00 pm Saturday matinees. Tickets can be purchased online through Carousel Theatre’s website, or by calling their box office at 604-685-6217.

Disclosure: My ticket to see Jason and the Argonauts was provided by Carousel Theatre. I maintain full control over my writing, and of course, Raul maintains full control over any content posted on Hummingbird604.com.

It was truly a pleasure to review this show, and a pleasure to be able to share it through Hummingbird604.com. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed attending and reviewing Carousel Theatre’s 2011/2012 season. Now that it’s over, I’d like to extend a big thank you to Raul for putting Jessie van Rijn (General Manager for Carousel) in touch with me in the first place, and Jessie for continuing to invite me back and being so lovely to deal with. I’ve had a fantastic season with YA theatre (and I don’t even have kids!).

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