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The Iliad

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

“This is the greatest story never told,” says the goddess Hera at the start of the second half of Chris Hannan's mighty dramatisation of Homer's epic chronicle of a death foretold, staged here by the Lyceum's outgoing artistic director Mark Thomson as his swansong production. It starts and ends quietly, with the collateral damage of life during wartime sitting about designer Karen Tennent's broken city, the girders encased within its classical columns exposed like scars on a body that's still standing, but barely.

Set at the fag-end of the decade-long Trojan War, things begin with Ben Turner's Achilles taking an almighty huff when Ron Donachie's Agamemnon, here a battle-bloated drunk who's lost his killer instinct, attempts to throw his weight about. What finally sees Achilles go back into battle is fuelled by the bromance between the reluctant warrior and his best friend Petroclus.

In Heaven, meanwhile, Zeus, Hera and the rest of the gods sit sunning themselves on the beach, lapping up cocktails like Heat magazine sired reality TV stars just a little higher up the food chain than their minions below. Only Melody Grove's black-clad Thetis milks the melodrama, coming on like an overprotective mother in mourning for everything that follows. Emmanuella Cole's Hera proves how she still calls the shots by having Hephaestus cast all manner of elemental ills on the environment simply by pressing a button on his laptop before she gives a telling nod to Marshall McLuhan.

All of which is navigated by Thomson's cast of twelve with an intense ferocity sustained over almost three hours of battle punctuated by blood splashed from buckets held high over the gladiatorial combat below. Doubling up of parts is never hidden, with each costume change accompanied by composer Claire McKenzie's majestically keening chorales. The fact that some actors also play their Greek character's Trojan nemeses points up how opposing armies are just flipsides of each other committing tit for tat atrocities in an epic staging that invests Homer's poetry with a sadly familiar flesh and blood relevance.

The Herald, April 25th 2016

ends

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