Before Ajax calls Achilles savage and remorseless

Last night, Calliope sang about the wrath of Achilles in the Classics Department’s adaptation of Illiad IX. Bwog’s Ancient Greek enthusiast Conor Skelding was there!

At the risk of sounding bubbly and too-glowing (I promise the next review I write will be meaner!), the Classics Department’s Iliad IX was magnificent.

Most notably, the entire play was delivered “as it would have been heard by Ancient Greek audiences in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.”  Every actor spoke Homeric Greek in dactylic hexameter, showcasing the musicality of the language. At first it was difficult to split my attention between the supertitles and the spoken Greek, but it got easier as the play went on. Each actor’s inflection and personal voice was much more pronounced, because they were tackling a difficult foreign language.  Odysseus (Stephen Blair), Ajax (Colin Webster), and Diomedes (Gavin McGown), spoke especially carefully, and even managed to infuse humor in their lines.

Each actor wore a large and ostentatious hat, ranging from the obvious, with [King] Agamemnon’s bowler-cum-crown that complimented his suit (perhaps a dig at The Corporations?), to the abstract (?), with Ajax’s beehive-thing. The costumes were mostly modern, and predominantly dirty beige in hue. Diomedes wore a fly military-esque jacket, and Phoenix a dirty paisley shirt with vest, walking stick, and vagrant leather cap. The motivation for this was not entirely clear, but had a pleasing effect, nonetheless.The music was original, and very appropriate, and the blocking enhanced the musical tension. When a group of characters interacted, they would stand up and move around. After their scene, they would return to their seats along the back of the stage. Combined with the on-stage narrators, this gave the show a wonderfully artificial effect. As an audience member, I knew I was being told a story by the narrators, and not seeing something purported to be a window to real life.

We followed attempts by Odysseus, Phoenix, and Ajax, to convince Achilles to rejoin the battle and prevent Hektor from burning the Argive ships. Blair gave a hilarious performance as Odysseus, adopting his characteristic crafty and slimy speech. As Phoenix, Joe Sheppard was almost touching, but added comic relief in his narration of raising the young Achilles and giving him wine. Colin Webster as Ajax was angry, slow, and righteous.

The play’s finale was Ridge Monte’s fantastic monologue as Achilles. At the speech’s climax, he declares that tripods and spoils of war can be gained and lost, but once a warrior loses his spirit, it can never be recalled. Profound stuff. Happy Sunday, friends!