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The Last Days of Troy – Royal Exchange Theatre – World Premiere –  until 7 June

 Actors acted their socks off, spat their fury across the stage lights, beat their chests and waded in gore in a passionateREVIEW PICTURE The Last Days of Troy -  Jake Fairbrother as Achilles Picture by Jonathan Keenan portrayal of an ancient conflict in Simon Armitage’s The Last Days of Troy at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

 

In fact, so vivid was the portrayal of relentless warrior fury, at times it seemed as if the heroes of ancient and Greece and Troy might – just might – turn their wrath on the audience.

 

Whilst there was enough shouting, blood and guts, and occasional swearing, plus the imaginative use of the stage space, to keep the audience engaged with this production, I felt it would have benefited from being shorter.

 

The play features original poetry by Armitage, woven around the ancient myth of the Trojan War, as told in the Iliad of Homer and the Aeneid of Virgil.

 

It’s a mighty task for an author to try to compress and breathe new life into works of literature which have been studied assiduously for thousands of years and which are foundational to western thought and civilisation.

 

This new telling for the 21st century, from Armitage, comes with the benefit of an action-packed, archetypal plot and the gravitas of the original works.  In a way, all it needs is for writer and actors not to mess it up.

 

I enjoyed the boldness of this effort, the effective staging, and seeing and hearing the actors in The Last Days of Troy filling the intimate surroundings of the Royal Exchange Theatre with the force of their commitment.  I also enjoyed the moments when Armitage’s poetry gleamed and glistened when it occasionally soared above the stagecraft.

 

Richard Bremmer gave a creditable performance as Zeus king of the gods – in his prime, capriciously directing human fate, and, in his decline, working as a shabby street entertainer, Zeus the living statue, reflecting on how things aren’t what they used to be, on the worship front.  However, I didn’t feel this sub-plot quite worked and, for me, it wasn’t strong enough, either as comedy or social commentary.

 

Inevitably, where The Last Days of Troy does succeed, is down to the ancient stories themselves and our collective cultural memory of names like Achilles, Odysseus and Helen of Troy.

 

Did the story need re-telling?  This parade of mythical Bronze Age characters has thrilled listeners and readers for thousands of years and the myths live on through constant re-telling, so we can thank our own warriors of the theatre – writer and actors – for fighting the good fight.

 

Lest we forget? – as well as being chastened by a depiction of the futility of war – we can take home another message from The Last Days of Tory – we must not, under any circumstances, forget our classical heritage – even if it’s just reeling off the names of a few Greek gods and goddesses in the local pub quiz.  Every generation should fortify itself with knowledge of the past and the story of the Trojan War must always be told.

 

Pic: Jake Fairbrother as Achilles in The Last Days of Troy.  Picture by Jonathan Keenan.

 

The Last Days of Troy is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 7 June.  Ticket prices start from £10 and are available from the Box Office on 0161 833 9833.   To book online, go to www.royalexchange.co.uk.  Contact the Box Office for details of matinee times, pre and after-show talks, and sign language and audio-described performances.

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