The Iliad review at Royal Lyceum Edinburgh – ‘immense’

The cast of The Iliad at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. The cast of The Iliad at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.
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Violence, anger and retribution thunder around Mark Thomson’s suitably production of Chris Hannan’s adaptation of the Iliad. It leaves, as is fitting for Thomson’s last production as the Royal Lyceum’s artistic director, the faint hope that while the gods and the ancients foreswore reconciliation, this is a path which is still open to us now.

This is big and clever stuff, which gets right in among the warmongering, the fighting and the infighting on that ninth year into the Greek’s siege of Troy, when Achilles took to his tent. There’s excitement in the tale itself and brilliantly clear storytelling as the 12 strong cast move between characters, moving between gods and mortals.

At its outset, on Karen Tennent’s towering stage lit with subtlety and vision by Simon Wilkinson, they are contemporary beings, who break out from under their day clothes to reveal the 3000 year-old characters who still govern our existence today.

Hannan makes this Hera’s story. It is her quarrel with her husband Zeus that drives the war and, as Emmanuella Cole says in an intimate, vengeful and always watchable performance, this is the first time that these emotions are being experienced. It is her offering of reconciliation to Richard Conlon’s fickle playboy Zeus that Hannan offers us as our hope.

This is an exceptional ensemble, each member worthy of mention. Ron Donachie is immense as both the despotic Agamemnon and the humbled Priam, Ben Turner right inside the conflicted Achiles, Melody Grove subtle and icy as the wronged Thetis.

But it is Thomson’s immense vision, his masterful exposure of our being and continuing conflicts on the stage, that remains long after the curtain.

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Vital, intriguing and compelling finale to Mark Thomson's 13 years at the Lyceum