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Review: NTW - Iliad @ Ffwrnes, Llanelli

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 28/09/2015 at 18:03
0 comments » - Tagged as Stage

  • Please credit Farrows Creative / National Theatre Wales.

National Theatre Wales - Iliad
Ffwrnes, Llanelli
Saturday 26th September 2015

With the great successes of Mother Courage and {150}, National Theatre Wales have now undergone one of their most ambitious projects to date.

Greatly influenced by Homer's stories, Iliad is Christopher Logue's reworking of the epic entitled War Music (the full work remained unfinished with his death in 2011). 

It's a mix of T. S. Eliot, beatnik verse, cinematic landscapes and dense wording. Sadly, his text is impenetrable. It's staggering that a writer would take a classic from Western civilisation and make it more archaic than the former work. We think in images. This piece blocked imagery occurring in mind... somehow.

Even this Wagnerian struggled with the eight hours of anti-theatre presented to us, over the course of a single day. Directors Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes gave us little to work with. Car tyres and patio furniture completely overused as statements of metaphor (the patio furniture flung against a wall in one staggering moment), trying to be as vivid as the poetry is not. Cutbacks in theatre are proven in Iliad, thought to be a fly on the wall when hundreds of patio chairs are ordered would certainly be fun.

The ensemble of actors is outstanding, bringing their own aesthetics to the complex array of word-smithery. A delight to see a familiar face in Melanie Walters from Gavin & Stacey, who for the most part was a narrator of many. The action is an infuriating tennis match of concentration and endurance, as actors frequently change roles, as we the audience are guided and forced to regularly move around the theatre. Microphones hung from the ceiling, to dictate the verse, as autocues were scattered around the theatre, framing huge landscapes of footage on a giant screen.

A clever decision was to have the gods as stroppy teenagers. Projected on plasma screens, each appeared naked in close up shots, as they revolved in circles and trying to catch our gaze. Some teens needed to work more on the script, but there were moments of alienation, as the actors fretted below them. Jacob Brown as Zeus, was like a Welsh TomSka who demanded much and proved Zeus' typically petty side.

The crew were also a constant annoyance, relentlessly and arrogantly going back and forth to retrieve the props for more futile and distracting near performance art. At one point they lured audience members to lie on the floor, to be part of the show (I'm glad they didn't ask me). Perhaps I would have declined, since I was not engaged at all. I did sight one crew-member rudely flicking away a coat from an audience member's chair who had been placed in it for the frenzied attack on the wall. A bit more respect to us as spectators is well advised.

Some would marvel at making it through such a feat. Had I have known of the piece's austere themes, I would have gone elsewhere. If you are going to see it, pacing yourself is well advised. Stay on toes, as you won't be sitting for too long. Get plenty of food and drink and perhaps bring a blanket for the all night show.

Epically dense and a test of endurance

Rating: 1 star

Iliad continues at Ffwrnes, Llanelli till Saturday 3rd October 2015

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