Adaptation of Stop-Motion Classic 'Jason and the Argonauts' to Hit the Wallis Annenberg Center

Tim Settle and Neil Thomas
Tim Settle and Neil Thomas
 Neil Thomas Douglas

The Ray Harryhausen classic, Jason and the Argonauts, set a standard for stop-motion animation when it premiered back in 1963. Luminaries like Tim Burton, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have cited it as a profound influence on their work. 

In a completely zany adaption of Harryhausen's fantasy feature, Visible Fictions -- a Scottish theater company -- will retell the classic tale using dozens of action figures, a wooden cart and a seafaring craft composed of newspaper. The show will be held at Beverly Hills’ Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts from Thursday, Jan. 23 to Sunday, Feb. 2.

The play, intended for audiences eight and older, stars Tim Settle and Neil Thomas in 23 roles including Jason, Hercules, Orpheus and the rest of his crew, as well as a Cyclops, Furies and all the other outlandish creatures populating the ancient Greek myth.

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“It’s kind of like two little boys who maybe have seen the movie on a wet afternoon and they can’t go out to play so they play with whatever’s at hand,” Settle tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They’ve got action figures, they’ve got paper they can make into boats, they’ve got sticks they can use as swords.”

In the production, Settle and Thomas arrive on stage pushing a wooden cart that doubles as a ship carrying all the dolls, toys and other props. Along the way there are off-the-cuff jokes, pop references and nods to classic movies like Jaws and Titanic.

By Settle’s own count, he has performed the show 530 times over the years and in that time they’ve never received anything less than sterling reviews. 

The best reviews didn’t come from critics but from theater owners at a showcase for IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth), where productions are booked at venues throughout North America. “We’d been warned by the director and our promoter that these people have seen show after show after show, so expect no reaction and just do it and hopefully we get some touring out of it,” says Settle. In the end, they got a standing ovation and were booked solid. That was six years ago and today they’re still touring.

Unfortunately Harryhausen, who died at age 92 last May, never got to see the show. But director Douglas Irvine approached the animator when they began their run requesting he write an intro to the play. Harryhausen turned them down but wrote a lengthy letter back wishing them all the best.

“He could have written the forward in the time he spent to write it,” Settle says laughingly. “But the guy was a genius and to be approached by a theater company he doesn’t know to be asked that, I do understand why he did write the letter back to say ‘No thank you.’ ” (The producer and effects creator, whose stop-motion technique was called Dynamation, also did the effects on 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Beast from 20 Fathoms and The 7th Voyage of Sinad.)

Running a brisk 65 minutes in the Annenberg’s Lovelace Theater (9390 Santa Monica Blvd.), matinees are preceded by improv workshops for youngsters as well as boat-making activities using newspaper and origami techniques.

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