Photo – Sand In Your Eye
There was a war. “What’s new?” I hear you ask. Certainly not this one because it took place in the 12th or 13th Century BC and historians are not sure it happened anyway. However, it holds an honoured place in Greek mythology because Homer wrote a poem called The Iliad about the last few months of this ten-year war and that’s what this show Memorial is about.
However, it doesn’t tell us about its progress, the story of the war. It’s a memoriam for those who fought, won and died in it. As a reminder of the basics of that epic war, the gist is that it started when the Trojan, Prince Paris, made off with the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, known as Helen of Troy. Not unreasonably, since she was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world, Menelaus asked for her back but Prince Paris and the Trojan people refused, so Menelaus asked his mighty brother Agamemnon to invade Troy. Over nine years later the Greeks were still baying at the gates of the walled city but, under the military direction of Hector, the Trojans were holding out and, seemingly admitting defeat, the Greeks upped anchors to take their men home. They left behind only a giant wooden horse and one man who urged the Trojans to accept the massive present as a peace offering. Thus, the Trojans hauled the huge gift through the hitherto unassailable city gates. You know what they say – “Never trust a Greek bearing gifts” and, as night fell, enemy soldiers who were concealed within the horse, crept out and opened the gates to their comrades who were waiting, having turned around and sailed back. Troy was lost.
Alice Oswald is the Poet who has reworked Homer’s Iliad, Chris Drummond who directed this show is the Artistic Director of Brink Productions, Yaron Lifschitz directed movement and Jocelyn Pook is the composer of the lovely melodic music. With the rest of the crew, it’s a very creative team indeed working together at the Dunstan Playhouse.
This poem is a list of names with a brief story of their lives by which to remember them, to show they had families they loved and who loved them, what they were like in their everyday lives – to make them real to us and to tell how they died. 183 people are on stage to do it but only one actually talks. 14 of them are on a platform at the back of the stage singing or part of the excellent orchestra and the rest march in intricate patterns over symbolic hills and dales, life’s ups and downs, with dead eyes staring straight ahead and they often sing as they march or stand in groups and sing. They are The Soldier Chorus featuring Aurora and Festival Statesmen choirs with Choral Grief, La La Land, Tutti and members of the State Opera Chorus of South Australia. A rich and beautiful sound they make together. It is a joy to hear the lovely voices in such harmony under the direction of Christie Anderson and Carol Young. And then, double joy to hear counter tenor, Jonathan Peter Kenny, who is also Music Director, soprano, Kelly McCusker who also plays violin, soprano Siobhan Owen plays Celtic harp, Belinda Sykes is a Bulgarian singer and Tanja Tzarovska a Macedonian singer, between them playing hand-bells, oboe, recorders, shawm and gralla. The latter two obsolete and traditional instruments add another haunting quality to the music. But a stand-out is Melanie Pappenheim whose strong voice never falters. She is a mezzo soprano whose wonderful voice conveys a deep yearning, longing for home and country, such fathomless sorrow and anguish that it should be heard over white crosses, row on row, over the battlefields of the world when we need to remember.
With such an assured, wonderful backing there needs to be someone who can be at the core, someone who can focus all that talent into what the ancient critics call ‘enargeia’ which means ‘bright unbearable reality’. The programme says, “At its heart Memorial is really about the words and the actor ... the voice and heart of a thousand lives arrested in unspeakable moments of visceral human experience; men in the instant of the dying, wives and mothers in the heat and ice of their grieving ... it all coalesces ... in once voice, singular and universal, a collective story told by a lone storyteller”. On a very practical level it needs to be someone who can learn that amount of words, some of them very difficult to pronounce, who can stay on stage for an hour and a half with no break, whose face and wonderful eyes can speak heart-ache and who can “find the breath and sinew of this extraordinary text”. Helen Morse. This fine actress is an Australian icon but this performance is as the audience would never have seen her before. She is slight, short haired, her faced lined and cadaverous at times and she is dressed in a patchwork sort of dress the colour of dark cherries. Like everyone else on stage, she wears no shoes. She gives the obituaries of The Iliad’s men but they are for all who died as we remember more acutely in this the centenary of the World War 1 armistice. It requires skill to recite poetry well. Apart from a deep understanding of the poem itself, timing, phrasing, nuance and feeling all have to be there, all of which Morse gives to this massive work. And there’s her voice and face – the one steady and controlled and sometimes driven to anger and despair at the waste and the other anguished and of such deep sorrow she becomes one of those wives or mothers.
The standing ovation the audience gave the cast was an acknowledgement of the realisation of the enormous amount of work that has gone into this show by everyone involved in it but especially because they knew they had seen a performance by Helen Morse, the likes of which they are unlikely to see again.
Brink Productions presents
by Alice Oswald
Director Chris Drummond
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse | King William Road, Adelaide.
Dates: 1 – 06 March 2018
Tickets: $55 – $67
Bookings: 131246 | adelaidefestival.com.au