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The Iliad

The Iliad: review by Alice Cruickshank

One of Ancient Greece’s most famous fables has been given new life, as The Iliad premieres at the Edinburgh Lyceum.

Generally believed to be the oldest piece of Western literature in existence, Homer’s epic poem has been reimagined by award-winning Scottish playwright Chris Hannan.

This is also a significant play for The Lyceum as it is the final work of resident artistic director, Mark Thomson. Thomson and the theatre have gone all out to make this epic tale an ending to be proud of.

The Iliad tells the story of the battle of Troy (no, not the horse- the other bits). But with some very meddling gods deciding to interfere, nothing is simple for the human pawns in this war.

Hannan has provided The Iliad with a 21st-century update whilst remaining true to its classic roots. He combines the conventions of Greek drama and modern theatre, with a traditional singing chorus looking on from the pillared backdrop as the gods lounge on deckchairs and surf on laptops.

These gods are glamorous, fiery and devious, with Emanuella Cole providing an excellent performance as the bitter queen of the gods, Hera. The heavens and its residents are styled almost like the celebrity stars of a reality TV show, wearing revealing beachwear styled to reflect ancient Greek dress.

Down on Earth, the cast members each take on multiple roles, often playing one character from each side of the conflict. The patriarch of the play (and of the cast), Ron Donachie, provides powerful performances as arrogant soldier Agamemnon and heartbroken father, Priam. Ben Turner is commanding in the role of Greek hero, Achilles, and Melody Grove skillfully portrays his mother, the sea nymph who convinces the gods to meddle in the fates of men.

In many ways this play comprises two separate narratives- the gods’ language and actions provide a very modern contrast to the more conventional portrayal of the battle scenes.

As is often the case with Greek theatre, The Iliad does not provide a happy ending, but there is plenty of light relief along the way.

A word of warning- this is quite the epic, with a run time of around three hours including the interval.

On the surface the Lyceum’s telling of The Iliad is a dramatic and enthralling drama, but big theatre fans will enjoy the deeper meaning and symbolic styling throughout.

The Iliad runs at Edinburgh Lyceum until 14 May.