With half term being a key feature of the current week, I thought I’d pick up on a couple of short form shows which entertain as well as educate and both of which start with some famous myths and legends from times past as their source material. What I found was some absolutely charming examples of family/children’s theatre which showed wit and invention, even if I did manage to misunderstand what one of them was going to be about.
First up were the four component parts of Myths And Adventures From Ancient Greece which cover exactly what it says on the tin being the tales of Pandora, Persephone, Midas and Theseus. They are scripted with an eye to the modern day audience by Hannah Khalil (with some help from Muna White for the second story) and performed by a couple of adroit puppeteers Peyvan Sadeghian and Ian Nicholson who alternate duties; the latter also directs. Each tale comes in at about ten minutes and they are performed with a whole battery of carefully crafted figures and scenery lovingly designed by Sam Wilde. There’s some especially knockout work to recreate both Hades and the underworld and the figure of the Minotaur. The quartet is linked together by the narrative figure of hope – in this instance in the guise of a large fly – which as the narration tells us is “present in every story you have ever heard”.
This, of course, gives the myths a positive outcome even when humans behave foolishly or badly, and I was a little nonplussed when the well-known aspect of Aridane’s ignominious dumping by a callous Theseus was given a spin for the better. In the first two pieces we are also treated to some understated feminist values as the women at the centre of them manage to make the best of their suffering at the hands of the uncaring (male) gods. In the second pairing the central male figures are shown as hasty and rather dim witted individuals who bring their troubles upon themselves. However, if there is an agenda at play its subtly done and the look of the playlets and the skills of the performers are the main takeaways from this delightful short series which I’d urge you and your family to delve into.
It was supposed to be a neat segue from the hero v. monster of Theseus And The Minotaur to George and the Dragon. Except I’d made a huge incorrect assumption. This is not the tale of George but Georgie – which I should have seen from the title Georgie And The Knight (full title: Georgie The Knight And The Armour Too Bright). Nevertheless, despite there being no scaly flying monster, the show does pay homage to our notions of courtly knights on quests and the general notion of chivalry drawn from Arthurian legends. The piece was first designed as a pop up show in the summer of 2021 as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Threads programme designed (pun intended) to celebrate the work of the costume department in Stratford-upon-Avon.
And so, we are shown in a lively half hour piece how armour is created, how costumes are distressed and why authenticity is important for the company productions. All this is skilfully interwoven (again, pun intended) into a pleasing narrative about a young squire finding their way into full knighthood through encounters with some characters who could easily have emerged from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Grace Wylde plays Georgie while Ollie Lynes plays everyone else (I counted at least seven characters), both forming a fine rapport with their outdoor audience and encouraging their participation. The pleasing script is courtesy of Nicky Cox (with a bit of help at one point from a certain Will Shakespeare) who also directs and makes some fleeting appearances “backstage” which in this case is appropriately behind some wheeled costume rails. It’s a fun way to learn about how one of the RSC’s key departments work and gain a better understanding of why subtle changes to costume help us to understand context and character far better; or it’s a gently knockabout farce with plenty of silliness to pass the time – take your choice. After viewing, maybe get your offspring to write, costume and perform their own version of St George and the Dragon as a follow up or have a go at puppetising another of the Greek myths. Two great little projects for half term.