The Last Days of Troy, Royal Exchange Manchester, review: Lily Cole plays an enigmatic heroine

4.00

The rest, as they say, is history, concludes Zeus, speaking three thousand years after the end of the Trojan Wars. Actually, the rest is mythology says his goddess wife Hera in The Last Days of Troy, this reworking of the Iliad by the poet Simon Armitage.

Homer’s tale of ancient enmity is one of the great action stories of Western literature with characters, motives and events robust enough to cope with all manner of retelling.  Armitage has opted for an account which is pared to the blood-stained bone. Its great economy emphasises the drama without sacrificing poetic allusion.

But if there is a universality to its gruesome and at times brutal portrait of the barbarity of war – Armitage’s vivid descriptions could be from Syria today – there is something anomalous to modern ears about the Greek gods. These ancient immortals sit far from even modern atheist notions about what it means to be divine. These gods are just another tribe of petulant squabbling partisans.

Armitage neatly addresses that with two Zeuses, the first immersed in tragedy the second in farce. The play opens with Zeus as a comic character, a sad caricature of his former Olympian glory, selling plastic models of the gods to tourists from a battered old-fashioned suitcase as antiquated as his vocabulary.

It seemed, at first, a shaky device on the opening night. There was an uneasy contrast between the violence of the text and the comedy of the delivery. Richard Bremmer as Zeus seemed to wrestle with that as much as he did with the recalcitrant collapsing stand inside his suitcase which had unfortunate echoes of a comedian folding a seaside deckchair. But Armitage goes on to extract a rich load from the contrast between the urbane Zeus on Olympus and the decrepit immortal three millennia on.

After an opening scene in the Greek king’s camp which was curiously lacking in creative energy The Last Days of Troy explodes into high drama. Jake Fairbrother has a barely-contained puissance as the simmering Achilles and Colin Tierney is bold and wily as the canny strategist Odysseus. Gillian Bevan adds nicely under-stated comedy as a jealous Hera.

But it is with the Trojans, in their garb of dried-blood red and dusty ochre, that the emotional energy rises. Tom Stuart is a persuasive seducer as Paris, Simon Harrison unthinkingly warriorlike as Hector and Garry Cooper heart-breakingly paternal as old Priam.

In their midst the international model Lily Cole, in a long shift of plain white, conjures an evocative ambiguity as the beautiful Helen of Troy, a blank canvas onto whose pale beauty every man paints his own desideratum. She speaks few words but that only adds to the potency of her enigma. Indeed she actually loses power on her longer speeches which seem curiously stilted. But there is a haunting quality to her breathless song to the Greeks inside the wooden horse.

Nick Bagnall’s direction is as taut and untricksy as Armitage’s raw, vivid muscular verse which is undergirded by sparing theatrical devices and a stark primitive set.

Playing at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until 7 June; 0161 833 9833

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test