I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
The Last Days of Troy opens with a world-weary travelling salesman walking on stage. He turns out to be Zeus. Death not being an option for the Gods, he has found a role in the modern world by selling plastic dolls of himself on Mount Olympus.
The play, a world premiere, is acclaimed poet Simon Armitage's adaptation of two epic poems – Homer's Odyssey, believed to be around 2,700 years old, and Virgil's Aeneid, believed to have been written over 600 years later.
Gillian Bevan as Hera and Richard Bremmer as Zeus. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.
Zeus (Richard Bremmer) introduces us to the escalating conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans, which is at the centre of the drama. Troy is a city under siege as the Greeks battle to reclaim their queen Helen (Lily Cole) who has been either seduced or abducted by Paris (Tom Stuart), the son of the King of Troy.
Lily Cole, most famous as a highly successful model, provides the necessary wow factor essential for the role of 'the most beautiful woman who ever lived'. The Last Days of Troy marks her debut appearance at the Royal Exchange Theatre and at first her voice did not project as fully as the more experienced actors. However, this could have just been very understandable first-night nerves. She strongly conveys both the aloofness and discontent of a woman who is blessed by her beauty but also a victim of it.
Lily Cole as Helen of Troy. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.
Elsewhere, there are suitably pugnacious and compelling performances by the warriors, including David Birrell as Agamemnon, Jake Fairbrother as Achilles, Simon Harrison as Hector and Brendan O'Hea as Patroclus. Some of the debates between these characters over the merits of their actions may seem a little earnest to a modern audience and I found them to be the slowest sections of the night, theatrically speaking.
Jake Fairbrother as Achilles. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.
Some much needed light relief, in this tale of 'slaughter and sorrow', comes as Zeus reclines on a chaise longue, like an all-powerful forecaster, and conducts the weather to do what he chooses.
The Last Days of Tro transfers to Shakespeare's Globe in London on 10th June and it has Shakespearean echoes in its lyrical soliloquies and well-choreographed sword fights. However, for all the stage craft, blood, fury and gore, it is those scenes when the poets' language takes centre stage and soars to the gods that the play strikes its most powerful blows of the night.