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.
Saturday 28 November 1998
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.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
25 years of Disney: How Darth Vader, Iron Man, Elsa and Pixar's geniuses helped the company conquer the world (again)
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account