Greensides, Edinburgh – until 24 August 2019 (seen in preview at the Union Theatre, London)
Distilling a significant chunk of Homer’s ancient epic into a fringe-friendly 55 minutes is a huge task, but one which writer Jack Fairey somehow achieves with ease. Given context by the narration of Achilles’ mother, Thetis (Amy Tickner) the story centres not only on the eponymous hero Achilles (Michael Ayiotis), but on Patroclus (his aide/lover, played by Fairey) and Briseis (his captive-turned-confidante, played by Laura Hannawin).
Within a single intimate setting – the interior of Achilles’ tent – we see the events of the Trojan War unfold through the eyes of these three protagonists. It is the complex emotions, meaningful connections and intense anguish conveyed by three strong performances from the leads that make this a show worthy of a space in your packed fringe schedules.
Much is made in the show’s promotion of the newly-written score (George Jennings), largely executed by the gods’ singing in Ancient Greek (Keir Buist as Ares, Joe Malyan as Aphrodite and Tabitha Baines as Artemis). For me, this didn’t sit quite so well.
As is common in adaptations of Homer, it is difficult to know what to do with the gods, whose impact and influence is so strongly conveyed in the source material but to whom it is almost impossible to allocate much action or character development. Wrath of Achilles seems to use music (and singing in Ancient Greek) almost to give the gods something to do. The deliberate decision to play Aphrodite as male does make Ares/Aphrodite’s love a more obvious foil for the love between Achilles and Patroclus, but beyond that the godly trio (through no fault of the actors) were somewhat forgettable.
Strong acting performances and a timeless story in a pared-down, atmospheric setting make this genuinely worth a look even when you’re spoiled for choice. It isn’t flawless (I’ll admit my secret past as a hardcore classicist make me a tough critic in this respect) but the company really have produced something modern, relatable and relevant from so ancient a tale.
Bedivere Arts aim to produce work for everyone, creating complex, well-rounded female and LGBT+ characters, and putting previously marginalised voices centre stage. Wrath of Achilles will be on at Greensides, Edinburgh from Saturday 3rd August to Saturday 24th August. Tickets.