Reviews Manchester Published 16 May 2014

The Last Days of Troy

Royal Exchange ⋄ 8th May - 7th June 14

The spoils of war.

Roderic Dunnett

Some vital thing is missing from The Last Days of Troy. Scripted by Simon Armitage, who produced his own version of Homer’s Odyssey in 2006, performed in the handsome not- quite-in-the-round space of the Royal Exchange and featuring a more than capable cast, it promises much but is strangely unengaging.

One problem is that Armitage, though incredibly faithful to the rise and fall of Homer’s language, too often seems to diminish rather than enhance Homer’s original Iliad. Powerful though the fight scene are – the armouring of Patroclus, the final Achilles-Hector standoff, and Sinon’s eerie machinations over the Trojan Horse – the impact is often – well – moderate.  Gareth Farr, author of the Exchange’s modern companion piece, the Bruntwood-winning Britannia Waves The Rules says, ‘I want to grab the audience by the scruff of the neck.’ Nick Bagnall’s production could well benefit from a bit more grab.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its charms, particularly in regard to performances. Most of the cast do a very strong job. Richard Bremmer has an attractive role as a kind of wanderer Zeus – a cross between Wagner’s Wotan and Odysseus returning home – who is strikingly regal when he dons his white ambrosia-eating attire.

The cast all handle the verse well, if in a kind of self-conscious ‘Iliad’ way. This results in some first class soliloquies, with Jake Fairbrother’s Achilles coming out on top. But David Birrell’s Agamemnon lacks the bluff authority of a Brian Cox, and Lily Cole – as Helen of Troy – doesn’t entirely engage, despite Armitage giving her some of the most common sense lines of the play.

The other women, including Gillian Bevan’s Hera, are forthright but unmemorable; Francesca Zoutewelle’s Athene a bit footling (whereas her Briseis, the girl Myrmidons and Achaeans fall out over, is rather good). Tom Stuart as Paris stands out too.

Alongside Simon Harrison’s Hector, Colin Tierney’s Odysseus, the thinker, and one of the best movers, makes an impact every time he speaks. He has that something extra. And though he starts out so tamely, Patroclus emerges in a glorious exchange where Odysseus derides him for grooming Achilles’ steed, tricking him into fatally disguising himself to fight Hector (and Zeus’s doomed mortal son Sarpedon before that). In the end Brendan O’Hea’s Patroclus is one of the production’s triumphs.  O’Hea – a veteran of Liverpool Everyman’s The Trojan Women, survivor of a world tour of Waiting for Godot and much else – brings marvellous subtlety to the shy visual suggestion that he and Achilles, through all the talk of women, are lovers, and to the evasiveness of Sinon which will bring doom to the windy city of Priam.


The Last Days of Troy Show Info

Directed by Nick Bagnall

Written by Simon Armitage




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