Arts & Books: Troy: this time it's personal

Andrew Rissik was one of the rising stars of British drama. Until he was struck down with ME. Now he's back with the epic radio play, Troy.

RADIO DRAMA has been in shrinkage for a few years now: classic serials have been lopped and lopped, and Radio 4, which used to happily accommodate 90-minute, or even two-hour, dramas, will hardly allow anything longer than three-quarters of an hour these days. So it is a refreshing surprise to come across something as ambitious in scale as Troy: a trilogy of plays, broadcast tonight and tomorrow, that take us from the birth of Paris, through the siege and destruction of Troy and on to the aftermath - the murder of Agamemnon, and Helen, the cause of so much suffering, achieving a sort of peace.

The author is Andrew Rissik. a name that may ring a bell with longstanding readers of The Independent. When the paper began in 1986, Rissik was one of the arts critics. In 1988, however, he stopped writing for the paper and, in a surprising way, his subsequent history resonates through Troy.

Rissik had had a brilliant academic career - double first at Oxford, Senior Scholar at Christ Church, beginnings of a doctoral thesis - but turned his back on that in the early Eighties to concentrate on writing. He paid the bills through theatre criticism, but in his spare time he was establishing himself as a dramatist - one television play was broadcast , and several radio plays, one of which, Anthony, part of a trilogy collectively entitled A Man Alone, had won a Giles Cooper Award. Altogether, you would have said, a promising young man. But in early 1988, he found himself unable to shake off a bout of flu. A doctor advised him to rest; but when things didn't improve, he was admitted to hospital, subjected to a battery of tests, and diagnosed as suffering from ME. And that, more or less, was that.

For the last 10 years, Rissik has been too ill to hold down a job. Like all sufferers from ME (or, to use the newer acronym, CFS), he has had to cope with two sets of problems. One is the purely internal suffering: "You are simply enmeshed in a body that doesn't work... you spend a lot of time lying in the dark on your own, feeling so physically ill, so poisoned, you can't enjoy anything, even watching TV." The other is external: the lingering suspicion that it is not a real disease, or that it is psychological in origin - a kind of depression. For Rissik, it is "a very physical illness": symptoms have included pain in his limbs, vicious attacks of nausea, blinding headaches every night, insomnia, and a permanent sense of exhaustion.

Early on, when he thought that the illness was bound to wear off and the solution was to keep working, he wrote a Radio 4 series, The Psychedelic Spy, a dry, stylish pastiche of world-weary Sixties spy movies. A couple of television scripts were commissioned, written and paid for, but never saw the light of day.

Troy sprang from his earlier Radio 4 play, King Priam - a monologue performed by Paul Scofield. The idea was to make this part of a trilogy; but Rissik ended with something grander. Troy has a large starry cast: Scofield returns as the play's presiding deity, Hermes; and the supporting cast includes Toby Stephens as Achilles, Emma Fielding, Michael Maloney, Lindsay Duncan, Michael Sheen, David Harewood...

But Troy also represents a change in his attitude: looking back at the earlier King Priam, Rissik sees it as having "a light and a slightly false optimism that is simply not part of one's view any more". If Troy has a theme, it is accepting what life throws at you, the grace that is left when ambition and possessions and everything else you thought made life enjoyable have been stripped away - Helen, generally a marginal figure in most versions of the Trojan myth, here becomes the bearer of the story's moral.

I don't want to kid you that Troy is perfect. The production has flaws, notably an intrusive, cod-mystical score; and Rissik's dialogue, treading the line between obviously modern and self-consciously archaic, is at times awkward.

Nevertheless, it is a boldly conceived, always searching approach to the story and its infinite meanings; and once again, you would say, this looks like a promising young man.

`King Priam and His Sons', Tonight, 8.30pm R3; `The Death of Achilles', tomorrow 7.30pm; `Helen at Ephesus', tomorrow 9.30pm.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee