Last Saturday we went to see the latest production at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. The Last Days of Troy is a new play by the poet Simon Armitage – a reworking of the legendary story told in the Illiad by Homer, so no surprise ending!
We enjoyed the play – a good production, well staged and with some excellent acting. The characters were warriors – Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles - Helen, Hector’s wife and gods (one male, three female). Helen was played by Lily Cole and as I was sitting at the end of one of the rows and the cast enter and leave by the same passageways as the audience (the Royal exchange is in the round) at one point I was about a foot away from a supermodel. I wondered how she was going to perform. I thought she actually did quite well putting her lines across. But she did pale a little against some very strong performances from other members of the cast, male and female.
The author had to condense Homer’s monumental tome (supplemented by extracts from others as some key, well known elements of the story such as the Wooden Horse, are not mentioned in the Illiad) into just short of 3 hours of performance. The 400,000 plus participants in the Trojan War were reduced to a cast of 12. The numerous gods who feature in the original story are limited to Zeus, Hera, Athene and Thetis (the mother of Achilles) in the play. And the character of Odysseus is an amalgamation of several high-ranking nobles in the Greek army.
The play raised some interesting points and there were certainly parallels with today. One theme was that Helen’s abduction was really just an excuse. The real motivation of the Greeks was plunder and annihilation of a rival state, which, of course they achieved. And what has changed? Often the alleged reason for starting a war is a smokescreen – a cover for the real motivation. The invasion of Iraq being a case in point. And the First World War come to that. Other themes included suspicion of foreigners. And with the Gods being major characters, there was an interesting point made about how their existence depended on humans worshiping them. Not dissimilar to the theme of Neil Gaiman’s book "American Gods" that I started reading recently. consequently Zeus appeared as both a washed out seller of mementos in the modern day and the regal king of Olympus during the war. An excellent performance by Richard Bremmer who was convincing in both “roles”. Colin Tierney as Odysseus, Jake Fairbrother as Achilles, Gillian Bevan as Hera and Clare Calbraith who played both Andromache (the wife of Hector) and Thetis, all impressed.