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The Last Days of Troy (Royal Exchange Theatre)

Simon Armitage's production of this epic tale has the scope needed but requires more intimacy to truly succeed.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Lily Cole
©Jonathan Keenan

Retelling The Iliad is no mean feat. Simon Armitage's production has some nice contemporary additions but takes too long to pull you in.

That's not to say it's a disaster, as some of the performances are some of the strongest I have seen at the Royal Exchange for a very long time. Gillian Bevan's Hera is a striking presence - very enigmatic and incredibly straightforward. And Bevan brings out the humour in every situation. David Birrell proves what a gifted actor he is as Agamemnon - as he purveys the theatre like a bird seeking a soft landing place. And Richard Bremmer's Zeus is commanding, funny and dotty - all in equal measures.

The scale of the piece is striking, whether you are a newcomer to the text or you have read it numerous times. Some of the scenes are rushed though and others take forever to get going. It's as if Armitage is so enamoured with the material that he wants you to savour it. But as Zeus repacks a suitcase at the beginning of the play, item by item - you realise how some major pruning would not affect the meaning and inject the pace, where required and add some suspense.

Lily Cole is more than adequate as Helen of Troy. She is haunting to look at and glides across the stage like a pale ghost. When she has to sing though or simply stand still, you do feel for her as she lacks the experience of performing in a space like this, to fully carry it off. Claire Galbraith on the other hand makes a little go a very long way, as Andromache, slinking across the stage like a snake and devouring each and every line.

Jake Fairbrother has the muscle and might as her son, Achilles but lacks the stage presence. He often resorts to bellowing this lines, and would be better off savouring the dialogue, as the audience would follow suit. Simon Harrison's Hector though is strident and steals many of his scenes with panache to spare.

The Trojan Horse scene itself is rushed and that's a shame as the narrative needs the audience to sweat the big stuff, but this adaptation does feel like a play which relishes in the detail, at the expense of emotional connection.

The effect is the equivalent of reading a rich book which endlessly describes war, love and hate, as opposed to convey it you through longer chapters.

Armitage's play may be flawed but it's as epic as any play you'll see this year.

The Last Days of Troy is at the Royal Exchange until 7 June.