Of course, we have heard of Homer’s Iliad, the epic journeys, the Gods and the Trojan War. But this is An Iliad as told straight from the poet’s mouth with a muse to assist the tale. This production reprised from Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre was presented and opened last night by Auckland Live and Artsense Production at the Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre in Auckland. The piece was co-written by theatre director Lisa Peterson and actor Denis O’Hare who interwove a central narrative with sections of Robert Fagles’ obviously hugely skilled translation of Homer’s writings. Directed by Jonathon Hendry and featuring Michael Hurst as the Poet and Shayne P Carter as the Muse, this pair of performers and director had powerful shoulders for such a piece.
The auditorium was a little chilly. The staging comprised of old timber, trolleys, an ancient stretcher, dust sheets and paint pots. Maybe we wandered into a wintery tool shed. Something in motion. Something not yet finished, maybe never finished. Seeming to walk in off the street comes the poet who admits he may not remember the story. No lofty language here, the audience is immediately captivated into conversation with a script that ducks and dives with the story.
With lithe movements, Carter coaxed sounds from the guitar, creating haunting angst on the fretboard with a guitar slide and reverb...
Joining the conversation was the musician Carter who strolled in to pick up the electric guitar. In response to Hurst, he provided a soundscape with simple and unassuming instruments, guitar pedals and distortion/loop boards laid out on a tool bench. With lithe movements, Carter coaxed sounds from the guitar, creating haunting angst on the fretboard with a guitar slide and reverb. Always his focus was fixed on the poet and impressively, never did the sound swamp the unmic’ed voice of the actor.
This work requires the actor to have a theatrical range from a lion’s roar to a Godot-like emptiness with moments of humour in between. Hurst held us in the palm of his hand through his courage and his vulnerability. He was the quintessential Fool, the prophet, the storyteller...
Please excuse the pun but what a herculean performance by Hurst. This work requires the actor to have a theatrical range from a lion’s roar to a Godot-like emptiness with moments of humour in between. Hurst held us in the palm of his hand through his courage and his vulnerability. He was the quintessential Fool, the prophet, the storyteller. And, like the Ancient Mariner, it pained him to tell the tale “ Every time I sing this song … I hope it’s the last time”. Only the most heroic actor would take on such a task and this with much success.
Not always as convincing was the staging. The onstage props weren’t really utilised save a suitcase and a bottle of the strong stuff. That is, aside from a brilliant cameo moment upon a ladder with an appearance from a rather 'camp' Hermes. Lighting was spare in the extreme and for some of the performance, the audience was lit as if we were part of the conversation.
In some ways, it was a similar issue with the soundscape. It didn’t seem to be fully utilised, erring on the too subtle at times. There was much anticipation to hear the Kiwi musician from Straitjacket Fits, the youthful soundtrack for some of us. This musician with NZ Music Hall of Fame pedigree could have made even more of his freedom to explore. After all, music can speak more directly and often more deeply than dialogue.
However, the overall effect was still powerful. And we were gripped, realising this tale marched right up to our door. As Hurst has written himself, the Trojan war “saw two generations of men taken out of circulation and began a seismic shift … that would lead eventually to the death of a whole civilisation.” And it’s not the last time we will sing this sad song.
Only performers of great stamina and skill would take on this gargantuan performance and earn themselves a well-deserved standing ovation.
An Iliad continues until Sunday 9 June.
Tickets now available at aucklandlive.co.nz/show/an-iliad