No going quietly into the night for Mark Thomson – this adaptation by Chris Hannan of Homerâ€™s big, bold epic poem is Thomsonâ€™s final hurrah before stepping down as artistic director of the Lyceum, a post he has held for 13 years.
His has been a mighty and successful tenure, with many memorable productions of many great plays. It seems fitting to have gone back to the very start of Western culture to find this huge treatise on love and war, the nature of revenge, the brutality of Man, and the inevitability of fate: these themes are eternal.
Thomson has assembled a stellar cast – Olivier award nominee Melody Grove, Richard Conlon, Ron Donachie, Jennifer Black, and to me the most stellar of all, Emmanuella Cole. Cole as the goddess Hera is truly divine – she looks sumptuous, she sounds sumptuous, she is sumptuous. The universality of time and theme is echoed among the gods as she and Zeus lounge on deckchairs, sipping cocktails, dispensing fate to mere mortals with the click of an Apple button.
Meanwhile Karen Tennentâ€™s set of broken Grecian columns portrays the brokenness of mere mortals, the Trojans and Greeks who have had years of ever more desperate hostilities, with no exit strategy in sight. There are fierce sword fights and buckets of blood, savagery and raw emotion. Women are commodities, or grieving mothers. Male friendship surpasses insipid romance.
So, visually stunning, beautifully acted, but just a tad confusing in the storyline for us even merer mortals who are not familiar with the Iliad. This possible bewilderment is not helped by actors taking opposing roles, most notably Ron Donachie as arch enemies Agamemnon and Priam – although such interchangability usefully suggests the futility of two opposing but similar sides with a grudge, battering away at each other.
There is a superb choral interjection from time to time, with a score by Claire McKenzie, of the whole cast possibly singing key lines from the Iliad, but it was all Greek to me.
As pure theatre this works, but the audience too has to work, and concentrate. A fine big curtain call for Mark Thomson, however.