The Iliad

It says something about us as a species that one of our oldest myths, crystallised in the form of Homer’s epic poem Iliad, is about war – specifically the bloody climax of the Greek’s 10 year siege of the city of Troy. It’s also apt that this latest retelling, by writer Chris Hannan and the Royal Lyceum’s outgoing Artistic Director Mark Thomson, begins with the sounds of sobbing, and then a mournful lament as the cast slip from the almost timeless rags of modern-day refugees into the martial dress of 3,000 years ago. This, against Karen Tennent’s impressive set that’s half classical temple, half steel-frame – half-demolished by conflict.

There is much to enjoy about this production; Simon Wilkinson’s lighting design sets time and mood through brilliant use of colour, while Claire McKenzie’s vocal score – performed by the cast – is dramatically impactful.

“We gods are jealous and petty and vengeful forever,” we’re told early on, as the Olympian deities are reimagined as uber-rich, self-fixated celebrities, all suntan lotion and gold-coloured bikinis as they sip their drinks on the beach, moan that “no one understands how hard it is to be us”, and gleefully interfere with the affairs of mortal men. Emmanuella Coles is so stunning as Zeus’s often betrayed (and invariably furious) wife Hera that Richard Conlon’s capricious man-child Father of the Gods comes across as little more than comedy relief. Yet this appears quite deliberate: Hannan deftly balances an expected emphasis on the dehumanising brutality of combat – excellently choreographed by Raymond Short, with blood literally flung across the participants by other cast members – with a clear expression of how women, regardless of their position, become little more than collateral damage in times of war.

We’re also told, at the start of the second half, that “this isn’t about the Trojan Horse”; while robbed of a gratuitous spectacle arguably impossible to fit on the stage, this also means Hannan can end his near three-hour retelling of the Iliad before the all-too-bloody destruction of Troy and its inhabitants. Importantly, this shifts the emphasis onto an event that surprises even Hera; when the Trojan King Priam – undoubtedly Ron Donachie best moment on stage – turns his unimaginable grief and anger at Greek warrior Achilles (who has killed 16 of his sons) – into a genuine desire for peace and an end to the violence.

There is much to enjoy about this production; Simon Wilkinson’s lighting design sets time and mood through brilliant use of colour, while Claire McKenzie’s vocal score – performed by the cast – is dramatically impactful. In terms of the rest of the cast, Ben Turner is a suitably testy Achilles (even if it seems a shame Hannan opts to ignore the homosexual overtones of Achilles’s relationship with Patroclus), while Benjamin Dilloway gives a real sense of nobility to Achilles’s opposite number, the ultimately doomed Hector. Yet, while the rest of the cast are at least adequate in their roles, there’s little sense of an effective ensemble pulling in one direction; this early in the run at least, it’s like watching a football team that’s unbalanced by several star players and only starts scoring goals during the second half. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

“… There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible – magic to make the sanest man go mad.”

The Gods of Olympus take their sides and the fates of all men hang in the balance. On the battlefield of Troy the scene is set for the final conflict to claim the beautiful Helen. Only the invincible Greek warrior Achilles can tip the scales of war to glory or defeat, but humiliated by his leader Agamemnon, he is stubbornly refusing to join the fray.

Homer's Iliad, the greatest and most influential epic poem ever written, tells of the tragic and bloody climax to the ten-year siege of Troy; the darkest episode in the Trojan War.

This great tale of gods and heroes, love, jealousy and revenge is brought to visceral life in a brand new adaptation by award winning Scottish Playwright Chris Hannan (Crime and Punishment, Elizabeth Gordon Quinn, Shining Souls).

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