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.
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.