THE LAST DAYS OF TROY
by Simon Armitage.
Shakespeare’s Globe 21 New Globe Walk SE1 9DT In rep to 28 June 2014.
2pm 28 June.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7401 9919.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 June.
War story skilfully retold and vigorously acted.
Better late than never. Having missed the opening of Simon Armitage’s Iliad adaptation at Manchester’s co-producing Royal Exchange, then in London when Nick Bagnall’s production transferred, I was glad to have made it before the war was over.
Armitage, a poet experienced in drama from House to Black Roses (both terrific), has distilled Homeric complexity for modern sensibility. It fits well in a Globe season of classical struggles, the stage swathed in William Dudley’s tomb-like black, designed for Titus Andronicus, also in this season
Design difficulties – such as the original Trojan Horse (actually a Greek gift) – are left to audience imaginations, as soon becomes clear. Less apparent is Armitage’s time-travel with chief divinities Zeus and Hera.
It’s not clear at first that Richard Bremmer’s angry Zeus, who soon turns into a fake-bearded attempt to pass himself off as an important divinity, despite his battered little suitcase, is set in modern times.
But it is by the end, with Bremmer’s rich performance incorporating moments of anger and assertion alongside the increasing appearance of someone between Lord Emsworth grieving over unimaginable disasters occurring to the Empress of Blandings, or an MCC umpire wandering the world looking for the rules. P G Wodehouse or cricket, the comic and serious intermixed.
The weakest scene has Zeus lurching around describing a battle we don’t see, despite the stick-thumping soldiers previously encountered. Yet, by the end, the gods displaced, the mortals have begun what will be a history of violence following deeply personal onstage brutality in a war of revenge, where friendship – Achilles and Patroclus practice-fighting – becomes brutal evisceration as Achilles revenges Patroclus’ death on Hector.
Tennyson’s “distant plains of windy Troy” become also Matthew Arnold’s “darkling plain” of human existence. It’s not only the gods who aren’t what they seem, nor a fight that turns-out an act of friendship. Is Helen of Troy or Sparta? And is she the casus belli or is it oil – sorry, Troy’s wealth?
Sinon the honorary Trojan turns out the loyal Greek. And so on. Such complexities form the most intriguing element in Armitage’s skilfully told, stylistically apt adaptation.
Hera: Gillian Bevan.
Agamemnon: David Birrell.
Zeus: Richard Bremmer.
Andromache/Thetis: Clare Calbraith.
Helen of Troy: Lily Cole.
Priam: Garry Cooper.
Achilles: Jake Fairbrother.
Hector: Simon Harrison.
Astyanax: Billy Kennedy/George Morris.
Patroclus/Sinon: Brendan O’Hea.
Paris: Tom Stuart.
Odysseus: Colin Tierney.
Athene/Briseus: Francesca Zoutewelle.
Ensemble: Michael Bell, Duncan Crompton, Akintunde Esuruoso, Paul Foster, Angus Fox, Dean Gregory, Duncan Hibbert, Toby Lee, Sacha Mandel, Louis Martin, Joshua Mason Wood, Cleve September, Matthew Simpson, Hadley Smith, Josh Smith, John Wallis.
Director: Nick Bagnall.
Composer: Alex Baranowski.
Movement/Fights: Kevin McCurdy.
Globe associate – Movement: Glynn MacDonald.
Voice/Dialect: Martin McKellan.
Costume: Ashley Martin-Davis.
Assistant director: Liz Stevenson.