Lyceum Theatre Company
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
A real blood and sand epic, Chris Hannan's version of Homer's tale stays close to the original, but also keeps the dialogue lively and relevant. This isn't a complete modern reinvention, the warriors still fight with swords and spears, but there are more subtle changes.
The female roles have been fleshed out in places, not that Homer ignores them in his story. Hannan though allows Hera (Emmanuella Cole) to talk directly to the audience, a delightfully biased and vengeful narrator. Witty, terrifying and sexy, Cole's Hera enthralls, whether dragging a corpse from the battlefiled or seducing Zeus (Richard Conlon).
There is some great doubling up, with Ron Donachie as both the Greek's arrogant leader Agamemnon and the Trojan's more noble leader Priam. Donachie makes the most of this opportunity to play both greedy, stubborn Agamemnon whose actions nearly lead the Greeks to defeat and Priam whose capacity for forgiveness gives the play its very moving ending.
Helen (Amiera Darwish) isn't given a great deal of weight, but Darwish gets to play the much stronger figure of Briseis and have some fun as Aphrodite. Briseis is pivotal to the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles. Briseis is the trophy girl of Achilles, given to Agamemnon after he loses his girl Criseis.
For a play about war, there is really quite a focus on different loving relationships: Thetis (Melody Grove) with her love for her son Achilles (Ben Turner), Achilles and his love for Patroclus (Mark Holgate); Priam's love for his sons, in particular Hector (Benjamin Dilloway).
So there are great little scenes like Hecuba (Jennifer Black) and Priam eating together after Hector's death. Also Briseis talking to Achilles after Patroclus' death. Many very moving moments.
The set and the costumes are a mix of ancient—the iconic helmets with the mohawks, doric columns—and the modern—Zeus, Hera and Aphrodite in revealing swimwear, Hephaestus designing weapons on his laptop, against a backdrop of corrugated iron.
The production doesn't feel the need to spell out the relevance of the story, after all it wouldn't have survived this long if it didn't have some pretty strong universal messages.
Through sword fights, through chanting and through changing each other's costumes, the cast really feels very solid, a really strong ensemble.
Another great way to celebrate the Lyceum's longevity, with this story that will no doubt continue to be retold far into the future.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin