There has been great excitement surrounding the opening of Simon Armitage’s new play, The Last Days of Troy, which held its world premiere in Manchester last week. Telling the legendary tale of the Trojan War and commissioned by the Royal Exchange theatre, us Northerners have a whole month to enjoy this impressive piece of theatre before it transfers to The Globe in London.
The retelling of this ancient fable begins in present day Turkey, at the archaeological site broadly considered to be the actual geographical location of the historic Troy. We meet the immortal yet shabby looking Zeus (Richard Bremmer) who’s been reduced to selling tacky souvenirs of the Gods of Olympus whilst attempting to find an audience to listen to his long gone tales of the past.
Armitage respects the tradition of this ancient story, gifting the cast with rich, poetic language whilst designer Ashley Martin-Davis clothes the Greek warriors in attire we’re used to seeing on modern day insurgents, bringing the tragedy of the Iliad to life and making us realise that although this tale may be three thousand years old, it’s as relevant today as it was then. Armitage’s focus on the relationship between the God’s and the mortals is fascinating, reduced to squabbling and sniping when mortal belief in them starts to wane, another reflection of our increasingly faithless modern-day society.
The cast as a whole is very, very strong, David Birrell last seen at the Exchange in Sweeny Todd, portrays a rough and vulgar Agamemnon brilliantly, leading the Greek forces across the Aegean Sea to Troy to bring back Helen, (Lily Cole) the beauty whose elopement with Paris, (Tom Stuart) the Trojan Prince has caused this ten year war. Agamemnon is perfectly partnered by the intense and conniving Odysseus portrayed wonderfully by Colin Tierney.
Nick Bagnall’s direction of this piece is impressive, taking the songlike script of Armitage and interpreting it with intensity and passion. This piece would work beautifully in a traditional theatre but being set in the round for me made it extra special, with spear wielding troops approaching from all sides, the chaos and confusion war brings wraps itself around the audience and gives us a kick in the stomach just to prove its point. Thought-provoking, physical, at times amusing and always challenging Armitage has created a piece of theatre that like its subject matter will truly stand the test of time.
Showing at Royal Exchange, 8th May until 7th June