Iliad, National Theatre Wales

September 27, 2015 by

After the remarkably untaxing, in fact rather leisurely, all-day, four-show Marathon performance of this theatrical staging of Christopher Logue’s War Music, which in turn is his retelling of Homer’s Iliad, our four-wheeled 21st century chariot sped us back to Cardiff from Llanelli. Not quite an Odyssey but enough to reinforce the other world, other time experience we had encountered and an illusion in keeping with Logue’s fusion of idioms and language across the eras.

Twenty-four later the voices of  Llion Williams, Clare Cage, Melanie Walters, Guy Lewis, Daniel Hawksford, Richard Lynch still lingers in my head, particularly those of the mega heroes Richard as Achilles and Guy as Hector.


Richard Lynch


This is overwhelmingly a performance for voices as we are given four slices of the epic tales from Homer of a world of bold and brave, superstitious and fearful humans and arrogant, egocentric, vain, playful and inhuman gods – a celebration of Classical storytelling and the art of  the late contemporary poet Christopher Logue.

The words, a fusion of three thousand years, stretch out to the audience from the actors, although I would be tempted to call them more orators,  meld names, places and references from schoolboy memories with modern-day allusions, such as humming power lines, figures and events from modern military history, El Alamein,  Stalingrad, Napoleonic battles and “it will be over by Christmas”.


Llion Williams


Each of the four parts of this collaboration between NTW and Ffwrnes share the same use of tyres, white plastic garden chairs, wooden sheets and wooden timbers to have a continuously, ever-changing, architectural flow, while the all-in-black actors, move around to take hold of the microphones descending from the heavens of the bare auditorium.



Claire Cage, Daniel Hawksford and Guy Lewis


All around are screen that, like autocues,  have the rolling text which they read as they gesture and move, yet rely on the acting in their voices, to inhabit the legends of these super heroes, or in Achilles case, mega sulker, as the 10 year long Trojan War reaches a quagmire.

Those voices are from Clare Cage, Melanie Walters, Guy Lewis, Daniel Hawksford, Richard Lynch and Llion Williams who between them present a marble statue crammed gallery of figures from Classical legends including, of course, Achilles, Menelaos, Ajax, Patroculus,  Cassandra, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Helen , Priam and Hector.

Those gods are played by teenagers and we only see them as virtual performers speaking to one another and to the humans below from a row of screens.  This is splendid in setting them apart from the mortals, giving them the aura of interfering, spoilt, squabbling and selfish egos that cannot restrain themselves from dabbling in earthly affairs. Those teenagers, Jacob Brown, Connor Charles, Madison Ellery, Scott Gutteridge, Lucy Havard, Harry Lynn, Ella Peel, Carmen Smith, Joseph Stockton and Madison Eve Thomas, gave captivating performances of more human-like characters than the mortals below.


Guy Lewis


Each of the four parts, Kings, The Husbands, Red/Cold and War Music are presented by the project’s  directors, and previous NTW partners in site specific performance, Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes as roughly two-hour long self-contained works, based on Logue’s books.  Do they each stand on their own in isolation? I wouldn’t really have though so, and having seen all four in the Marathon day I found each dependent on the other for a full appreciation and understanding not so much of the story but of the staging, the video backdrop and the use of those architectural elements.

I have to say there were times when I felt almost as if I as an audience member was more of a hindrance to the production than the focus of the work as  around we mere mortals those tyres, garden chairs and wooden poles were moved around and frequently with no obviously understandable reason why.  At other times it was wonderfully effective, throwing hundreds of chairs into an interlocking wall or tower or strapping them together to raise on poles as eight beacons, or put into ranks and push in surges across the space. Hard work from the tyre-moving, chair-lobbing, pole-wielding protagonists soem of whom also are Narrators; John Rowley, Richard Huw Morgan, Rosa Casado and Ffion Jones.


Claire Cage


I am sure I was not alone, however,  in wishing at times it would just stop and I could stand or sit or crouch and remain immersed, washed over, by those voices and the poetry rather than wonder when I was next going to get moved around to enable more shape shifting.

Similarly I managed by sheer luck to be in eye of the screen when the gods appeared but others in the audience just hear voices as they could only be seen from about half of the theatre space.  Always in eye sight is the screen of video with desolate landscapes, stark forest or silent lakes while a heavily percussive score and soundscape from John Hardy Music and Mike Beer is like those gods, omnipresent,  but  unlike them does not impose on those mesmerising, melodious voices.

By the way, forget Helen and Paris, the story of Achilles and Patroclus is far more moving.


Melanie Walters and Daniel Hawksford


There are more performances of the individual parts until October 3 when Iliad ends with another Marathon, this time an all-night experience.

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