Jason and the Argonauts was performed by students from the London School of Musical Theatre at the Bridewell Theatre, London.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jason and the Argonauts started life as a studio album by composer Charles Miller in 1998 before being commissioned by the London School of Musical Theatre as a full-length musical in 2005, with book and lyrics by Tim Sanders and Paul Carpenter. In the years that followed, it developed across a series of performances in both England and Continental Europe before being substantially reconceptualised for its 2016 production at the Bridewell Theatre, London.
The title notwithstanding, Jason and the Argonauts presents elements of the life of its Ancient Greek protagonist without disproportionate emphasis on the voyage of the Argo itself.
Inevitably it incorporates many of the features that may be expected of a show based on the myths of classical antiquity, such as plinths for the deities and the inclusion of a Greek chorus, albeit one that advances the narrative rather than being confined to reflecting upon it.
Appropriately for a drama school production, Jason and the Argonauts offers a judicious balance between the genders, the all-female Greek chorus being complemented by the Argo’s crew of (with one exception) male characters.
An ensemble show, the opening number and the finales to each act are particularly impressive for their direction by Steven Dexter and choreography by Anthony Whiteman.
Tye Matthew Harris as Jason lends cohesion to much of the story, and while the role never dominates, at least he has much opportunity to shine, for instance, in his sensitive performance of the song ‘Stranger That I Love’. Maddy Banks comes into her own in Act II as Jason’s romantic interest, the sorceress Medea, resulting in some superb scenes between her and Harris.
The four goddesses – Bethany Staton as Hera, Jeannie May as Artemis, Sophie Valentine as Aphrodite, and Lauren Lockley as Athene – are highly entertaining in their (many) comical scenes, and cohere well as a vocal quartet during their joint numbers.
Staton, who stands out within the group, delivers a particularly strong performance in ‘The World is My Oyster’. The all-singing, all-dancing Greek chorus, kept busy throughout the show, always enrich the onstage proceedings through their fine contributions.
The company takes full advantage of the many witty moments of Sanders’ book and lyrics, which poke fun at the very genre of musical theatre itself.
Demonstrating impeccable comic timing, the goddesses’ powers extend to putting the action on pause with increasing frequency in order to decry the ‘love interest’ or to suggest that the show cuts to a more exciting number. King Pelias’ vaudevillian solo ‘Pelias!’, expertly performed by Ryan Towart, contains more than a hint of the character of King Herod from Jesus Christ Superstar, and the roll-call of the Argo’s crew at the end of Act I surely alludes to Hairspray through its script and direction.
Miller’s pop score, securely performed by a five-piece band under the musical direction of Neil MacDonald, contains many outstanding melodies that are easy for the audience member to grasp and recall.
David Shields’ lavish set in imitation of Ancient Greek architecture, coupled to some spectacular (mainly modern-day) costumes particularly in the Palace Heights scene, are similarly remarkable. Finally, Adam Fisher and Andrew Voller deserve special commendation for their effective sound design and lighting.
London School of Musical Theatre’s Jason and the Argonauts offers a first-rate production in all respects, and one in which the students clearly excel as a company.
Hera’s claim at the end of the show that she’s ‘already written the sequel’ may have been facetious, but more in the same vein would certainly be welcome.