Simon Armitage brings Homer’s The Iliad to a modern light in an astonishingly brilliant way, but unfortunately with a slightly less impressive cast. Armitage’s new play, The Last Days of Troy, is a brilliant and clever creation. Definitely unexpected in the manner it was presented.
Opening its the doors on the 8th of May, 2014 to Armitage’s production, the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, UK was a swell environment for the World Premiere. The play will continue in Manchester until the 7th of June and then the cast will be off to London to showcase the play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
As for the cast, it was, needless to say, an interesting mix.
The play begins with Zeus (Richard Bremmer) as a pedlar in modern day Troy, dressed in a cream-white linen suit. Zeus, acting also as Narrator throughout, was both comical and all-fearing, as the ancients would have portrayed him, but spoke in a more modern fashion. At first I believed that this actor was simply a late comer to the theatre, but then was pleasantly surprised with an early giggle or two to a normally serious story. I thoroughly enjoyed Bremmer’s performance throughout.
Even the relationship between Zeus and Hera (Gillian Bevan) – above – , as an old, bickering married couple, who still showed their love and affection towards each other, was entertaining. Their dialog was clever and funny. Even noting, when in the new, modern world, “some people even may say we are mythology.”
There were fine, believable performances from Odysseus (Colin Tierney), Andromache / Thetis (Clare Calbraith), Hector (Simon Harrison), Athene / Briseis (Francesca Zoutewelle), and even by Priam (Garry Cooper). However, Hector was breathing exceptionally heavy when he was supposed to be dead, but with all the fighting on stage before this scene, it was understandable.
The main attraction and only face on the playbill, Lily Cole (above right), played Helen – and very briefly. Her presence during the play was short-lived and her range of emotions did not stretch very far. I did believe one scene more than the others, when she cried – which is not an easy task for some actors. However, the other, more seasoned actors demonstrated more charisma and variation. I was probably one of the few attendees that went purely for the subject matter, as a lover of Homer’s tragedy, and not to gawk at Ms. Cole. Overall, she should probably stick to modeling and maybe some forms of films, unless she obtains some more training.
There was even a scene where Ms. Cole sang – wow – I wish she didn’t. There were a few times where she pitched and made me cringe (my facial expression was probably not any better). However, Calbraith and Zoutewelle have beautiful voices and to hear them sing was a pleasure.
I was particularly surprised in the selection of the actor who played Achilles (Jake Fairbrother). Fairbrother swayed too much for my liking and seemed like he could not stand still even for a moment. Between him and Agamemnon (David Birrell), I believe they spit too much as well when speaking. I appreciate that in certain scenes they dealt with water, but throughout was bizarre. Also, I know this was a modern play, but having a bald Achilles I can not get over. It was both contradictory to Armitage’s dialog and historically inaccurate, as the Greek, Sinon (Brendan O’hea) – who duped Priam – , stated clearly in the play that the Greeks shaved his head as a symbol of shame (the ancient Greeks regarded bald heads as the mark of a slave) and yet – Achilles, demigod and son of the nymph, Thetis, was bald. Maybe someone should have thought this one through.
Another historical inaccuracy noted was the use of Muslim garb for only non-speaking characters, even the Greek soldiers. For example, Achilles’ concubine, Briseis (Zoutewelle) – ancient princess of Lyrnessus, who was given to Achilles as a war prize after a previous battle (who supposedly he fell in love with) -, was made to wear a Niqāb during the play (clothe that covers everything but the eyes and hands). The Trojan War is believed by archaeologists to have occurred in/around the 12th or 11th Century B.C. Only around the turn of the first millennium were veils first believed, as shown by art, as being worn primarily by specific classes of women in Byzantium (none covering the face, however) and the first document proving the use of veils by Arabians was close to the first century A.D. Muslim garb is a very modern notion and nothing related to the ancient Greek culture. The only reason I can see why they covered these characters was due to the fact that they were non-speaking parts/actors; however, I found the choice of this particular clothing quite confusing for the subject matter.
There were even some important parts of this tragedy that went missing from the original storyline, including the death of Achilles (which was shown in a more absent and artistic fashion); however, as a whole, both Armitage and Director, Nick Bagnall, did a fantastic job in encompassing the tale in a modern way as a whole and in a short, 3-hour running time.
For those who have read Homer’s classic tale of the Trojan War or not, this play is worth seeing and I do recommend it, aside from the above noted. Armitage has a way of bringing an action-tragedy into one with some modern comedy, entertaining you continuously.
Other related articles & information:
Royal Exchange Website & Online Ticket(s) Booking – http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/event.aspx?id=781&utm_source=theatre&utm_medium=friendlyurl&utm_content=print&utm_campaign=troy
Simon Armitage Website – http://www.simonarmitage.co.uk/