Adelaide Festival 2020: The Iliad – Out Loud

What: The Iliad – Out Loud

Where: Scott Theatre (Uni of Adelaide)

When: Sat 14/Sun 15 March

How much: Full Cycle $117, Students $55, Single Parts $49, Students $20, tickets here

This is not a piece about COVID-19 and the ethics of going out during a pandemic. Government advice is that mass gatherings should stop from tomorrow, Monday 16 March (although your local Collage-ians are social distancing already like champions). Nevertheless, having slathered myself in hand sanitizer, I headed over to Scott Theatre, the site of many a lecture in my undergrad days, to catch The Iliad – Out Loud, having forgotten that The Iliad starts with a plague. Prescient.

The Iliad – Out Loud tries to capture the true oral tradition of the Homeric poems as a marathon performance of the Iliad running over 9 hours. There’s a bit of physicality, but mostly just the incredible words and imagery of the epic poem. The actor/director, William Zappa, consulted 17 different translations of the poem to capture a modern retelling of the story of Troy. Featuring four performers – Zappa, Heather Mitchell, Blazey Best, and Socratis Otto – this is an exercise in the imaginative power of oration. The stage is sparse – a circle of sand, some beautiful bronze panels at the back, and a small orchestral section – drums, gongs, windchimes, and what looked like a bouzouki. The actors read from scripts, and rotate between characters and narrator roles as needed. The Iliad is very long – to read it out loud as is would take far longer than 9 hours. A few Books have been cut or truncated in order to make it a more manageable time, and to amp up the story.

It was remarkable how much the oration captures the imagination. For instance, every time I have read The Iliad, I skip the Catalogue of Ships in Book 2 (it’s a list of names of all the Greek captains and kings who came to Troy), but the performance on stage made it compelling and exciting, and demonstrated the sheer enormity of the Greek armies in a way I’ve never found on the page. The sheer stamina of all 6 performers (four actors, two musicians) is incredible. The Iliad is incredibly bloody and gory, and in updating the language, it hasn’t been watered down. In fact, the modernised language (including swearing! Yay!) make this more graphic – the traditional reading of the Iliad, like Shakespeare, makes it this high-class, inaccessible text. In reality, these are pop culture war stories from a different era.

There were a couple of claims about Homer’s work in the opening preamble that had me scratching my head – for instance, there definitely was an epic poetic tradition before Homer, and people did perform stories before him, not just sitting around campfires as was claimed. I would also dispute the claim that Homer is cinematic and essentially a filmmaker – The Iliad and The Odyssey are profoundly theatrical and poetic, that’s the point. Strong visual imagery may be something we associate with visual media now, but cinema doesn’t own the concept of visual imagery, and Homer didn’t know what a movie was. Claims like this seem to want to make The Iliad seem like the most important text ever made – it’s already really important! It doesn’t need any more bigging up! I will admit that this dislike of anachronism is probably a ‘me’ problem (as Collage’s resident English Lit PhD nuisance).

If a 9 hour performance isn’t for you (the lady in front of me had brought some knitting to keep herself occupied), you can buy tickets for Parts 1, 2, or 3 individually (each Part runs about 3 hours). With the second and final performance today, go and lose yourself in a fittingly epic show for the epic times in which we live.



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