What a winning formula! Out of Chaos have done for Greek mythology what the Reduced Shakespeare Company have done for Shakespeare and the Bible – compressed practically the entire canon into an entertaining one-hour show. Moreover, Out of Chaos has skilfully put their adaptation together so that it appeals to the widest possible audience: from primary school children through teenagers and doctoral researchers to retired gentlefolk. It is both accessible and intelligent. Those who already know the literature can enjoy the diverting and imaginative ways in which it is presented; but if you don’t it doesn’t matter, since they tell you all the stories anyway.
The three actors are larger than life. With minimal props but multiple quick-fire changes of stance, facial expression and accent they present a panoply of memorable characters (eg King Pelias as a Mafia boss). Their voices filled the room as they leapt, strutted, pounced – it was a very energetic production. And what a setting! Gallery 21 of the Ashmolean, with its ancient marble busts and statuary, was the perfect backdrop for their performance, and soaked up the dramatic changes of light depicting the red hellfire of Hades or the deep blueness of the sea. As the only scenery was comprised of three cubic boxes, however, Out of Chaos could – and do – perform this production anywhere, from tiny studio theatres to village halls and churches.
Their show is structured around the tale of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, interleaved with practically every Greek legend I could recall, some told as stories, some re-enacted, some told in song. There were some utterly hilarious moments. One of my favourite scenes was the imaginative realisation of what it might actually have been like to be those men hiding inside the wooden Trojan horse for hours on end, with one of them utterly unable to make head or tail of the puzzling history of the Trojan War. Another was the depiction of Zeus creating a rather Neanderthal version of Man and his reception of Prometheus’s gift of fire.
Thank you to the Ashmolean for bringing this enjoyable production to Oxford and providing such a fitting location for it.