The time of night when Troy was set on fire

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I hope you caught some of the amazing and awesome Iliad live reading yesterday. The Iliad is such Ur-literature that I don’t have to (or at least don’t intend to) apologise for talking about it here*.

The Almeida’s production (with the British Museum) was so fabulous that I stayed up until one in the morning to catch the end. Over 60 actors took part (in over 16 hours of reading) and the ones I caught live at the British Museum – Lorna Brown, Jenna Russell, Will Featherstone, Forbes Masson, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Joe Dixon, Lisa Dwan, Samuel West and Julian Glover – all brought their own flair to the reading, which made two hours on hard benches, and the to-and-fro of the battle in front of the ships, fly by.

Sam West sings of the death of Sarpedon.

Sam West sings of the death of Sarpedon.

I don’t know how much of a crowd there was at the Almeida, but the last couple of hours were electric. By the time I got home and tuned into the live-feed Tobias Menzies was reading the death of Hector, and Mark Gatiss, Simon Fewell, Simon Callow, Susannah Fielding, Lesley Manville, and Tim Pigott-Smith took me through to 1 in the morning.

The in-between sections (and the whole working day) were wonderfully live-tweeted – you can see the whole thing here. The live feed will apparently return soon in the form of podcasts (and some behind the scenes stuff) and if you have any interest at all in the classics, you should check it out.

The language was incredible – yes, repetitive descriptions are the order of the day, and yes you can snigger at the homoerotic thrusts which are EVERYWHERE (and there’s a section where someone falls in some ox poo which must be a deliberate joke). But, like Shakespeare, it works so well when spoken out loud.

This could have been an awful stunt, a gimmicky thing to draw attention to the Almeida’s Greek season** but instead it was a powerful, compelling piece of drama. Homer is still so strong, the story so visceral that you get swept away. For sixteen hours. Truly epic.


* But just in case here’s the gratuitous Shakespeare connection – not only is the Trojan War the setting for Troilus and Cressida but characters mention Troy and the war in Henry IV, All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry V, Henry VI, Julius Caesar, Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard II, and Titus Andronicus… That’s, like, a third of his oevre.

** I’m not sure it needs it – it been very successful, with the Oresteia transferring to Trafalgar Studios and rave reviews for almost everything so far.

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5 thoughts on “The time of night when Troy was set on fire

  1. AndrewSN

    I went to almost the entire think live (i had a break during the list of ships 😉 ) and even though i had to stand for the first couple of hours it was one of the most enjoyable and invigorating experiences of performance art I’ve ever been privileged enough to see. The choice of passages for each performer was perfect and, despite reading it countless times and studying it both at school and at university, it all felt so fresh and exciting. Particular favourites include Ian McDiarmid, Tobias Menzies, Adjoa Andoh and Tim Dutton but all were wonderful and made the whole experience so magical.
    So much so that i booked off the whole day for The Odyssey performance a few months later 🙂

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    • AndrewSN well done on catching the whole thing! I had to dip in and out but I was very lucky that the friends I was seeing that evening didn’t mind me hijacking it to make them sit in the British Museum 🙂 I should go back and see what the Almeida has made available on line.
      How was the Odyssey?

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      • AndrewSN

        I was lucky to get tickets to the bit at the Almeida but i wouldn’t have missed it for the world. One of the people reading was someone i knew from school (he used to beat me in reading competitions every year) (Will Featherstone). I may have had quite a lazy day on Friday though….. 0:) I believe it’s all available online still. I may have to re-watch it all though i might do it in smaller chunks this time…..

        The Odyssey was great. Or at least the bits that i saw were. To get Arts funding (I believe) they staged it so teh readers were travelling round London in their own kind of Odyssey. So not all segments were available to see live. The segment on the top of a boat sailing along the Thames, inevitably finishing at the eye in time for The Cyclops scene in Book 9, was dramatic but possibly not the best choice of venue for mid November in London…….

        I definitely need to watch The Odyssey online if it’s available as there are large parts i couldn’t see on teh day. Ian McKellan in Islington Town hall was amazing. We got let in 40mins before his segment was due to start so he entertained us with stories from his life till the previous speaker arrived and walked through the door with the following cameras.

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