Enthusiastic and ambitious romp through an accelerated epic.
Thomas Dimmick takes on a mighty challenge in condensing the multiplicity of events, characters, battles and passions of Homer’s epic into an accessible performance within a single hour. In further challenge to Dimmick as director, the entire dramatis personae is performed by a mere 8 performers and, on the night of review, a sudden absence through illness leaves him to take a place on stage, script in hand, taking his turn as narrator and a medley of characters.
Usually twinned with the more familiar The Odyssey, The Iliad recounts the decade-long Greek siege of Troy. The original poem provides a background to the start of the war, the affair of Trojan Paris and Helen of Sparta that leads to violent retaliation by a massed coalition of Greek armies. Focussing on the last few months of the ten-year siege, details of each battle, personal conflicts between Greek rulers, bizarre squabbles between meddling gods and the emotions of close relationships marred by the ongoing conflict.
With 8 performers, time constraints and an audience thousands of years and half a world removed from the oral tradition-formed poem, Black Martini Theatre reflects the spirit of the original with pop culture references as relatable abbreviations of the many personalities and key incidents. While purists may cringe at Diomedes being interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, arguments between powerful leaders featuring eloquent ripostes such as “LOL nope”, the venerable Nestor advising Greek forces move to “fuck shit up” (in a cod-Cockney accent) and Menelaus apparently taking stance and elocution cues from the television series Housos, the young cast members relish their necessarily irreverent approach to the abbreviated classic.
With a total lack of thespian subtlety in the rambunctious performance, crude slapstick, extreme physical and verbal affectation mark the presentation. Flicking from role to role, performers Karen Hansord, Kala Dunkin, Keegan Zykowski, Alyssa Burton, Hock Edwards, Nic Doig, Rhys Hyatt and Sam Stopforth all display zestful versatility. Energy levels are constantly high with youthful vigour, never dropping despite attempts at relatively sober explanatory narrative bridges between two competing Homers, a bit too much ham, self-conscious cleverness and emphasis on “whatevs” ironic nonchalance denying the audience any respite from a bombardment of loud and heavy-handed acting. A creation of its time, the original Iliad may have been more detailed, verbose and fixated on the “fighting fighting fighting”, but this modern spin is likewise a test of spectator endurance in the face of relentless arch humour mocking the deeds of gods, men and ancient Greek storytelling in a determined flurry of modern in-jokes and each actor’s strident attempts to impress with flamboyant delivery of the witty script. A moment of literal horse play involving a toy horse on a stick encapsulates the level of irreverent farce.
Given the constraints of the venue, sound and lighting are basic, and consideration of the effectiveness of characters “sleeping” lying flat behind a raised ledge at front of stage may have assisted, given the ledge is directly at audience eye level in a flat seating arrangement. However innovative use of props works well within budget and time constraints, highlights including graffitied drop cloth shielding tender sensibilities from godly shenanigans, Anna Weir’s reversible costumes allowing rapid character shifts and pageant sashes denoting mostly interchangeable “GOD” or “GOD 2” roles, providing an interesting perspective on the hot mess of shifting allegiances and actions from Olympus and their battlefield ramifications.
A laudable attempt with high hopes, a clever finish dispelling modern assumptions about the contents of The Iliad as opposed to The Odyssey, Condensed Literature: The Iliad makes the most of the ambitious premise and draws many laughs from its target audience. More original comic scripts and presentations from this company will hone their skills and add to the diversity of the local theatre scene.
Black Martini Theatre presents
Condensed Literature: The Iliad
by Thomas Dimmick
Director Thomas Dimmick
Venue: YMCA HQ, Leederville WA
Dates: 22 – 24 February 2018
Part of Perth FringeWorld 2018