Performance

Achilles

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

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Mary Brennan

three stars

UPSTAIRS, in the close quarters of the Circle Studio, the Trojan War is now raging into its ninth year. Achilles,the Greek’s hero- warrior is sitting it out in his tent: his pride has been dented and he’s sulking. It’s at this point that we’re plunged into the epic stanzas of Homer’s Iliad by narrator/performer Ewan Downie in this one-man show from Glasgow-based Company of Wolves.

For Downie, the question of who’s right or wrong is largelyimmaterial. What interests him - and seems abidingly pertinent to our own times - is how rage becomes a driving force for cruelty and destruction. Within the span of an unstinting fifty minutes, Downie will re-enact the moments where Achilles’ bravery and courage morph into vengeful inhumanity and a slaughter-fest that unfolds like a gory graphic novel. It’s a valiant attempt this, to evoke the ancient bardic traditions that kept history, and its attendant legends, alive in the fabric of an evolving society. Simply remembering the copious text would be a feat in itself but Downie - who co-directs the piece with Ian Spink - introduces spasms of illustrative movement and songs of Greek lamentation into his narrative with varying degrees of effectiveness. The three songs, sourced by Downie’s associate and life partner Anna Porubcansky, are chillingly memorable: episodes of keening, yowling and visceral vocalising that screech out Achilles’ grief at the death in battle of his beloved friend Patroclus - tinged, perhaps, with the guilt and anger that often shadows loss. The spoken text, however, is often hard to follow and you do hanker for the expressive subtext of Downie’s movement to come to the fore, perhaps with some-one else handling the breathless prose. The production is part of Manipulate, at the Traverse on Tuesday 30 January.