The Iliad Out Loud
Written by Homer. Various translations adapted by William Zappa after Homer. Performed by William Zappa, Heather Mitchell, Blazey Best and Socractes Otto. Musicians Michael Askill on percussion and Hamed Sagedi on the Persian Oud. Set and costume design Melanie Liertz. Lighting design Matt Cox Premiere production for Sydney Festival and co-produced by Sport For Jove. Supported by Creative Partnerships Austtralia through MATCH LabScott Theatre. Adelaide Festival 2020. March 14-15 2020
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
William Zappa’s The Iliad Out Loud is a theatrical masterpiece. For six years, Zappa pored over seventeen translations to create his own version of Homer’s epic saga of the decade long Trojan Wars. The result is nine hours of gripping storytelling, performed in three parts over nine hours at the close of the Adelaide Festival. Actors Blazey Best, Heather Mitchell and Socrates Otto join Zappa in this marathon reading from most of the twenty four books of Homer’s Iliad. Together they breathe life into Homer’s epic poem, switching characters with absolute perfection and uttering with magnificent clarity and conviction the emotional and visual impact of the text. As Zappa says at the start, Homer’s Iliad is likened to an action movie, so graphic in its description of the slaughter, so sensitive in its account of the suffering, so comical in its depiction of squabbling Gods and so compassionate in its regard for the frailties of the human condition. Zappa captures it all in his direction, like a veteran cinematographer panning back for the broad shots of the armies, zooming in for the closeups on the individual Greek, Trojan or God and all the time allowing his stage tapestry of action to captivate an audience, hanging on every word, journeying with the actors through a virtual landscape of sea and sand, walls and trenches, palaces and celestial seats of the omniscient, omnipotent immortal Gods.
|William Zappa in The Iliad Out Loud|
Long banners on either side of the stage list on stage right the Greek Gods supporting Achilles’ fleets as they set off from Greece to rescue Menelaus’s adbucted wife Helen from Paris, the son of the Trojan King Priam. On stage left the Gods supporting the Trojans, with Zeus as the head God are listed above the Trojan tribes and the leading Trojan characters, including the abducted Helen. Audiences can swiftly gaze from side to side as names are mentioned, characters face each other from either side and Gods interject, interfere and argue and debate amongst themselves whether soldiers may live or die.
Three huge cymbals like giant Greek shields hang in front of a painted copper embossed backdrop. In front of them Michael Askill accompanies the action on drums, while Hamed Sadeghi sits at the side, strumming the Persian Oud. The music is subtle, atmospherically conjuring the auspicious tension of the evolving drama. The actors with script in hand, sit at the side of the large circle of sand in centre stage Zappa introduces each book, and opens each part with a precis of the story for audiences who may not have remained for the entire cycle.
|Socrates Otto and Blazey Best in The Iliad Out Loud|
And all the time Homer’s rich tapestry of love and war, of fear and courage, of kindness and cruelty, of power and powerlessness before the mighty Gods unfolds through the spoken word of consummate actors creating magic moments without artifice or spectacle It is their art that so engagingly creates each distinctive player in this tragic event. We are swept along by the drama, intently bound to listen and imagine, utterly spellbound by the storytellers, just as they would have been three thousand years before.
It is the seamless fluidity of the production that gives it such magnetism. Zappa’s direction creates a dance upon the sand, through which the actors revolve, advance, appear as different characters and exit. In the oral tradition it is the lesson of humanity seen through the prism of the Trojan War but spoken for all time. It is a world where Gods are human and heroes godlike and Homer’s epic poem in Zappa’s version assumes immortality.
It is little wonder that at the close of Part Three, the audience spontaneously rose to their feet to applaud a remarkable work and a perfect finale to the 2020 Adelaide Festival.