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Achilles review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘powerful but slightly over-egged’

Achilles by Company of Wolves at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Brian Hartley Achilles by Company of Wolves at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Brian Hartley
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The trouble with the Homeric epics is that for us today they exist only on paper, as big, impenetrable books in stilted English. Company of Wolves’ solo piece summons some of those poems’ original power, recreating the way they were originally performed: orally, by storytellers, with music.

Ewan Downie’s adaptation uses long extracts from Homer’s Iliad to tell only Achilles’ story, cutting out all the rest of the action of the Trojan War. By focusing on Achilles’ life he creates a character to empathise with, and the moment when he loses his comrade and lover Patroclus is made particularly affecting.

The show is a mixture of storytelling and dance, but the too-much physicality – over-egged movements to re-enact Achilles’ killing spree – hinders the storytelling far more than supports it.

Lamentations in Ancient Greek, composed by the company’s co-artistic director Anna Porubcansky, are wailed plangently but go on for far too long.

All that power and rage does pay off, however, when Downie reaches the famous opening lines of the Iliad, placed midway through the piece. “Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles” becomes a fearsome command to Hera by our hero, with grief making him forget his place as a mortal and having the gall to boss the gods around. It’s a mighty moment.

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Sometimes powerful, but slightly over-egged telling of the story of Achilles