20 April – 14th May
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
There is an expression in English known as ‘Coming Full Circle,’ & it was while I was watching Mark Thomson’s final production for the Lyceum, The Iliad, that I really felt the truth in that wee phrase. Western civilisation begins with Homer, but there is a problem; who he was & if or how he created his two great epic poems – the Iliad & the Odyssey – remains mysterious, given the weight of millennia since they first appeared on the planet. Like any self-serving student of the theatre, I’ve had a poke into the ‘Homeric Question’ myself, & came to a private conclusion that text of the Iliad is nothing but a script of an ancient play, probably presented at the first Olympiad by the Spartan demagogue, Lycurgas. Scholars have noticed that the Iliad is about two thirds dialogue, while the other third could easily be worded by a narrator to the side of the stage. As I sat in my comfy, modern seat at the Lyceum, my theories as to the matter were given the most stocial support, for as the drama of the Iliad unfold before me, I felt it come alive once more, as if it had found its natural home in the footsteps & throat-beams of actors.
Adapted, or rather readapted, for the stage by Chris Hannan, the set was rather like that of the Handelian opera; two identical, double-floored Greek Templesque affairs facing each other over a dusty beach. This dust, by the way, would rise into the air & drift into the audience following the niftily choreographized blood-splattering battle-scenes, whose brutal thumping sword-on-shield moments were one of this play’s prime assets. All praise to Fight Director, Raymond Short, for this is an impeccable job, fella.
Hannan’s Iliad has been modernized, & obviously shortened, but it works, it works magnificently. Punctuated with funny puns & the occasional brusque brush with sexiness, Hannan has done a fantastic job of compression &, dare I say, digression, for he draws upon traditional Trojan motifs held outwith the Iliad & peppers them into the script, so the modern anticlassicist can follow the tune. Of Hannan’s effort, Mark Thomson tells us; ‘Chris’s version of the Iliad has a great deal of what inspires me in theatre: a big human story, language that is rich, poetic & deliciously speakable with themes that are timeless but resonate powerfully I the ears of a contemporary audience.‘
The plot of the Iliad centres around Achilles, & his ‘wrath.’ Falling out with pig-headed Agamemnon at the start of the play – played here by Lyceum stalwart Ron Donachie – he sulks in his tent while his best friend Patrocolus dons his personal armour & ends up being slain by the Trojan hero, Hector. This gets Achilles right on one & you can guess the consequences. In this production, Ben Turner’s Achilles is a wonder, what a guy. You can really tell that he’d had stint on the set of ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ : he knows all the moves & tonal inflections.
Elsewhere, Richard Conlon’s Zeus is cool, like an east-end gangsta living it large on on the Costa Del Sol. His, & I quote, ‘bad-tempered bitch of a wife,’ is Emmanuella Cole’s ciggy-smoking Hera, & she is undoubtedly the star of the show. Emanating authenticity & addictive to watch, her quality unfortunately puts into perspective some of the weaker actors/actresses. I mean, I don’t know if Peter Bary’s Paris was meant to come across like a soppy wet blanket for dramatic effect or not, but he definitely lacked balls. This, then, had a knock on effect to the chemistry between him & Helen – ‘the gorgeous scourge of mankind’ – played by Amiera Darwish. We were supposed to be watching one of the great romances of history – Napoleon & Josephine, Tristan & Iseult – but the chemistry they generated was more like Terry & June.
As for the stagecraft, I can’t really knock it. The splendid costumes were accompanied by the equally slendidly sung choruses in Greek which separated the scenes, bellowed beautifully by the entire cast. Indeed, towards the end of this really refreshingly fizzy production of the Iliad, I began to imagine the Corybantes singing & dancing before me, & the passage of three thousand years dissipating into mist.