Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes

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Chatterbox Audio Theater, 25 February, 15 April 2012
This was a really ambitious venture; to tell the story of Jason and the Argonauts in a live performance, with a cast of nine actors and a four-piece band. When Don Chaffey retold the story for the 1963 film, he could work with hundreds of extras, as well as his leading players; and even his production was low-budget compared with some of the elephantine releases of Greek and/or Roman epics that appeared around the same time (for example, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's legendary Cleopatra with Burton and Taylor).
Robert Arnold's audio version made up in enthusiasm for what it might have lacked in numbers. The tale is a familiar one, even to those listeners unacquainted in any great depth with mythology; and there is an obvious temptation to make fun of the material in an attempt to attract interest. Fitzrovia Radio has done this very successfully in its recreation of old-time radio adaptations from the 1940s. However Chatterbox's Argonautica resisted this temptation; they transformed Apollonius' material into an epic piece, linked by Orpheus' (Billy Pullen's) narration. Sometimes his enthusiasm to tell the tale got the better of him, especially while describing the more salacious elements; but his fellow Argonauts, notably Heracles (Joe Vescovo) and Jason himself (Chris Jowers), politely curtailed his flights of fancy and told him to resume the tale.
Pullen's Orpheus seemed very much like a radio journalist, excitedly reporting his despatches to an eager audience of listeners. He could not wait to continue the tale, as there seemed so much to talk about. The other Argonauts were more phlegmatic: Jason in particular came across as ideal leader material - the kind of person in whom one could trust, even if sometimes his resolve deserted him in certain extreme situations. If nothing else, he proved how a good leader can maintain group identity and thereby ensure everyone's safety.
While the material of the Argonautica was obviously fantastic, the production itself felt like a rite-of-passage epic; in pursuit of the elusive golden fleece, the Argonauts discovered something about themselves and their relationship to the world around them. Through their endless travels, they learned moral lessons as well.