|Photo by Jamie Williams|
The ILLIAD - OUT LOUD, adapted from Homer's poem, began as an ABC Radio Drama commission seven years ago. William Zappa, using seventeen translations - from that of Alexander Pope's of 1720 to a more recent from Caroline Alexander - and advice from experts in this contentious field of study, has developed a three part preparation as an oral presentation. Its tradition is that of an oral poem (sung), not a literary work, stemming from, most experts believe, from the 8th Century BC. Zappa was determined to find the Australian voice for this telling - its musical rhythms and sounds, which is now accompanied by a score for 2 musicians: Percussion, Michael Askill; Oud (and other string instruments), Hamed Sadeghi.
Mr Zappa has invited three other actors, to read his compilation: Heather Mitchell, Blazey Best and Socratis Otto. It was presented, each part separately, on a different night, and, once, as a daylong cycle of 9 hours with three intervals - an epic experience for all.
THE ILLIAD, concerns itself with the telling the story of 40 days in the 10th and final year of the Trojan War in 24 Books. Essentially, it deals with the time of quarrel between the leader of the Greeks, Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles. Of the fight for victory to take back Helen, the wife of Menelaus, kidnapped by Paris of Troy and the tragedy of the fate of Patroclus. King Priam's son, Hector represents the principal warrior antagonist, for whom we, too, come to grieve.
In this mix is the interference from the Immortal Gods who attempt to manage the actions of the mortals: The Trojan sympathy led by Zeus, Artemis, Apollo with the Archaeans represented in opposition by Hera (Zeus' wife and sister), Athena, Poseidon, among others. Homer separating the acts of the Divine and that of man finds that there is not so great a difference of motivation for action showing us that our mortal differences are no different at all to that of the gods - petty, emotional and competitive.
The petty rivalry among the Immortals and the Mortals, their distempered quarrels, the organising for war, the sacrifice for war, the poetic and precise detail of intimate battle with men-bearing arms, of the injuries inflicted, of the taking of hostages and the enslavement of women and children and the murder of prisoners of men and youths are brilliantly essayed by the poet. There is in the weight of the carnage, over nine hours of performance, no glorifying of war but a stealthy wonder and depression that the example of Homer from 3,000 years ago of the human species in action has not been heeded. One reflects on the war zones of our time and the intimate poetic precision of our entertainments that obey the command of our fingers on the the x-box buttons and cinematic screens, of that same inclination to self slaughter and debasing treatment of the defeated.
Organised and sung 3,000 years ago to entertain and inspire its listeners, a propaganda tool for the aggrandisement of men and politics and tribal dominance, its pertinence glamours and clamours in our consciousness.
My education began in the 1950's and I just missed out on the possibility of learning Latin an/or ancient Greek - which would have taken me into the tasks of translation from these amazing ancient sources, though I did study Ancient History and the works of Thucydides of the Peloponnesian Wars, so I never read THE IILIAD, or have I THE ODYSSEY, Homer's other surviving poem. Of course, I was saturated in the stories of the Old Testament and had read the gospels of the New. I have seen some of the Indian myths and figures of legend in the Peter Brook, theatrical telling of THE MAHABHARATA of the 4th Century BC; too, a theatrical telling of Ovid's METAMORPHOSES (which I have read) - THE LOST ECHO, Tom Wright and Barrie Kosky - translating some of the myths of the Greeks; I have read and re-read the Mary Renault Historical novels dealing with the mythical Theseus, and of the very real Alexander the Great; of work by Shakespeare, Marguerite Yourcenar, Colleen McCullough, Robert Harris, Gore Vidal and much else, besides re-reading at this very moment, THE MISTS OF AVALON (Mary Zimmer Bradley), another telling of the Arthurial legends (interestingly enough with the Mother Goddess at its centre!) All those Hollywood tellings of the past, myth and legend, have all been part of my imaginative construction. Attending a reading of THE ILLIAD was, is , a blessing, feeding my unconscious appetite for my ancestral heritages. I have peered into the East: China, Japan, Indonesia, enriching my life. And I have come doubly appreciative of the ancestor stories of my Indigenous brothers and sisters and grieve with them in their contemporary need for re-collecting and gathering, after a cultural containment and expungement by the new settlers/invaders. A history of most aboriginal First Peoples around the world.
So, in my privileged space, attending a reading of a digestion of THE ILLIAD, was a no-brainer. From this, I and my ancestors have sprung, trying to make sense of the world events through the telling of story.
This mission of passion instigated by William Zappa is a wondrous gift. The version he has laboured over is clear and moving, both, in its narrative and its perception and honouring of the poetics. The collaborators he gathered about himself are actors of high technical skills with an emotive and intelligent access to all of this epic whether it be Mortal or Immortal, comic, tragic or descriptive. They took aflame from each other as they took turns in carrying the 'baton' of their race to tell. They taught our ears to be eyes, hearing their 'instruments', we learnt to see. Their restraints highlighted our catharsis as we rushed in to their crafty invitation to fill the many many mighty, horrifying moments.
This was aided by an aesthetic design, organising the musical instruments in the background before bronze coloured wall panels that were lit, by Matt Cox, to aid in the confident temperature control of the narrative. In the foreground was a great pile of white sand that had different sculpture shape for each of the parts, acting as metaphors for the journey, cleverly envisaged and executed by Set and Costume Designer, Mel Liertz. It was a pleasant visual offer all through the long day.
The musical contribution by percussionist Michael Askill and Hamed Sadeghi on his string instruments (oud) was a narrative tool that moved from dramatic foreground to influential background that provided a secure envelope for the moods of the poem with the feeling of improvised energy highly harnessed in the discipline of 'scripting'. A long side the actors, these two artists were brilliant 'narrators'.
One can only have been impressed by this day for the poetry, the presentation, and the telling of some of the heritage that has made us who we are - of the shocking and the confirming. One presumes we will see THE ILLIAD- OUT LOUD, scheduled in some other Festival opportunity. It was worth it.
P.S. I was slightly unhappy that the voices of these actors were assisted electronically. Especially when the instrument occasionally failed and we heard the drawing intimacy of the natural voice of the actor that was so much more vulnerable and urgent, giving us more agency to work alongside the artists for their affect. we leant in to them rather than sitting back in our seats waiting for the 'sound waves'.