Review: Achilles: The End of His Wrath

Achilles: The End of His Wrath

Wed 20th-Thurs 21st, Divinity Schools, St. John's College, 7.30pm

This semi-staged dramatisation of the latter third of Homer's Iliad focused on five scenes key to our understanding of the conclusion to Achilles' wrath. The performers read the text in the original Greek, whilst English surtitles and images of the characters were projected behind them. Although some elements were less successful, overall this was a good production, which provided a rare opportunity to experience one of the most important pieces of Western literature in all of the power of the original language.

The emotional success of performances varied greatly, as some of the readers seemed to be much more comfortable with the language than others, to the extent that they could add quite subtle tonal inflections to convey their meaning. In particular, Christos Tsirogiannis as Achilles gave an incredibly nuanced performance and clearly deserved the main role; he also brought to the role a sense of intertwined weakness and dignity, which made it easier to sympathise with a character who is notoriously difficult to love.

Similarly, although Katy Morgan's character profile states that she only started learning Greek in July, her performance as Briseis perfectly captured Homer's description of her.

Anthony Bowen was excellent as Priam but even stronger as Agamemnon. The director, Patrick Boyde, was equally well cast as one of two narrators. Mark Worthington played the other and was also adept at portraying the poet's calm and omnipotent sagacity. I wondered whether the decision to include two Homeric narrators was an acknowledgement of the so-called ‘Homeric Question', which asks about the possibility of multiple authors later given the collective name of ‘Homer'.

Between segments, brief on-screen English summaries of the excluded sections were provided with a violin accompaniment. Unfortunately, the violins were introduced only during the brief breaks between sections and added little more than extra pacing. Equally, I felt that more could have been done with the projections of relevant images from ancient and modern, commissioned art.

A classical performance in the original language should aim to transfer something of the meaning inherent in the original words without necessarily making recourse to translation. Not knowing Greek myself, I felt the best readings in this piece enabled this: Achilles' anger was rousing and Homer's final description of peace soothing, even without the aid of the English translation.

Had all of the performers been equally strong, this piece would have been absolutely spectacular. As it stands, it was certainly accomplished but not always exciting. Nevertheless, this dramatisation is sure to add extra depth to any Classicist's understanding of Homer – it has certainly added depth to mine – and hints at the great potential of upcoming Greek plays, such as the double-bill of Prometheus Bound and Aristophanes' Frogs, which is being prepared for next October.

Ashley Chhibber

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