Troy to Afghanistan – Jonathan D’Young on the love of warriors and wives

Tempus Fugit: Troy & Us [] began as a theatrical rendering of Book 6 of The Iliad, namely, the very human parting scene of Andromache and her husband, the doomed Prince Hector of Troy. It was commissioned by the British Museum for their 2019 Troy exhibition, and supported by The University of St Andrews; in particular by classics scholar Dr John Hesk. And now it’s heading to Edinburgh as part of [email protected].

From the outset we knew we wanted the world of Hector and Andromache to be masked: firstly, to connect with classical theatrical traditions; and secondly because masks are portals into a timeless world of universal archetypes, which are at once strange, and strangely familiar. Masks enable the viewer to project their own thoughts and feelings unto the simplest of movements. However, we also wanted moments where our characters were unmasked, to explore a modern parallel couple, to give our story greater contemporary relevance and to enable naturalistic dialogue.

Via our St Andrews collaboration, we got involved with Dr Alice König’s Visualising War Project - which examines the interplay between battle narratives in ancient and modern cultures. Through this, we ventured away from the mythological roots of the piece and started to research the effects of war on individuals across time, looking at books including Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam and Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls. We also consulted trauma specialists, and interviewed military personnel and their partners. These real-life experiences became crucial to the story, and gave birth to our modern protagonists: Alec and Bea. In particular, we aimed to tell Bea’s story, who tunes into a radio presentation of The Iliad as an escape, but as her world begins to unravel, it starts to seep into her subconscious and the struggles, anxieties and hardships of Andromache become a reflection of Bea’s psyche.

The dialogue between the ancient and modern stories enabled us to bring the idea of visualisation into the show - Bea can visualise Alec’s existence and daily routine in Afghanistan with no more clarity than she can that of Hector’s – both visions are based on literary, filmic portrayals, and she can never fully be let in to what either her husband or the ancient warrior are living. Ultimately, it is not war itself that we wish to throw a light upon but rather the day-to-day life of a military couple and the ramifications of war for those left at home and for the returning soldier. 

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