The Iliad by Chris Hannan (with of course some inspiration by Homer) marks a high point for outgoing artistic director Mark Thomson to leave the Lyceum Theatre on. With his deft re-write of this originally orally told tale of feuding and vengeful Gods and a Trojan and Greek war that over nine long years decimated the population and landscape, Chris Hannan has created a new take for the 21st century on this 3,000 year old classic without losing any of the power of the original source material.
This tale of war, love, jealousy, anger, friendship, betrayal and eventual forgiveness sees a hugely talented and experienced cast bringing the Gods and heroes of ancient Greek literature to life...names that have survived through the millennia – Hecuba (Jennifer Black), Paris (Peter Bray), Helen of Troy, Aphrodite, Briseis (Amiera Darwish), Hector (Benjamin Dilloway), Zeus (Richard Conlon), Hera (Emmanuella Cole), Agamemnon, Priam (Ron Donachie), Thetis, Andromache (Melody Grove), Patroclus (Mark Holgate), Diomede, Lycaon (Reuben Johnson), Ulysses, Hephaestus (Daniel Poyser) and Achilles (Ben Turner).
Any of these parts to play must be an actor’s dream as these characters are all so real and so flawed...even the Gods – probably more flawed than any mortal as a lifetime of immortality and little to do to pass the time but toy with the mortals below them has driven them a little insane at times.
Once you get used to the visual clash the Gods have with the Greeks (warriors in black) and Trojan (warriors in orange) as they enjoy a sort of French Riviera lifestyle on sun loungers, beach clothes and robes and the occasional Dior inspired matching outfit, things start to make sense. Emmanuella Cole as Hera, a woman wronged by Zeus and his never-ending affairs, is great to watch and listen to. Chris Hannan has given her a wonderful script of the still angry wronged woman, only this one is an immortal Goddess and can keep that anger going forever. Richard Conlon as a Zeus that is so powerful that he simply could not care what any God or mortal thinks makes a great counter balance here.
Powerful and outstanding performances from everyone on stage tonight, but some characters are just larger than others and standing out for me throughout the performance were Daniel Poyser as Ulysses and Ben Turner as Achilles. Watching Ben as Achilles descend into a savagery unacceptable even to his war torn times and almost insanity over the death of his close friend Patroclus is at times disturbing to watch as you can almost feel his sanity ebbing away. You can almost taste his hatred for Patroclus’s killer Hector.
The dual roles of the hugely arrogant Agamemnon and King Priam forgiving his son Hector’s killer, Achilles makes very interesting contrast.
These characters are not modern heroes, but ancient ones fighting a brutal war with no glossing over the brutality of war or the horrors that the victors will unleash on not only the defeated army but their wives, women, children and old folk.
It is fitting that this vision of a terrible and total war in which soldiers and non-combatants are shown no mercy as the towns, cities and lands around them get destroyed is performed in 2016, a hundred years after some of the most appalling battles and loss of life of World War I.
Powerful and thought provoking theatre, and an outstanding piece of work for Mark Thomson to mark his departure as artistic director from the Lyceum with.
Review by Tom King