Wrath of Achilles, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

The epic journeys, high tragedy, gods and monsters in Greek myths provide theatremakers with a wealth of source material for new works. In this new play with music, Jack Fairey scales down The Iliad to an intimate three characters and gives it a gay spin. As Achilles and his best friend Patroclus wait at their army’s camp with their Trojan prisoner Briseis, they consider the ethics of how women are treated in war, and Achilles and Patroclus realise they are more than just mates.

The trouble is, nothing else really happens. The majority of the action is on the front lines, some of which is then narrated by the perpetually sulky and melancholic Achilles and Patroclus. There are moments of tension that eventually arise, but these take too long to appear, are minimally played and lack urgency – Achilles is totally resigned to his fate at this point in the war.

They are supported by a Greek-language chorus who could inject some life into the story during the transitions they sing through, but this is also misjudged. Their music is always mournful and balladic, and the guitar riff that accompanies them changes little, so any momentum that does gather is lost in sludgy sadness. When they’re on stage and not singing, they stand absolutely still and intensely stare at the core characters, not contributing to the action at all. It’s a baffling staging choice.

Briseis is stuck in the camp and often intervenes in the men’s discussion on behalf of her freedom and that of other women. Played by Laura Hannawin, she is the only character  given the opportunity to show any real passion. She begs and pleads for her life as well as that of other women who are at the mercy of the soldiers and their leader Agamemnon. It is literally life or death for her, but Achilles and Patroclus have little investment in this issue. Their new-found love is given a bit more attention, but this overall lack of care and investment renders the two plot lines unconvincing.

Though Bedivere Arts Company have some commendably progressive ideas they want to incorporate in a classic story, their implementation is not effective. Boredom and whingy sadness are not effective vehicles for acts of rebellion in wartime. The dialogue is stilted  and not supported by meaningful objectives; nothing is investigated in-depth. This is a show that needs a total overhaul of its dramaturgy and tone in order to give its issues suitable importance and weight.

Wrath of Achilles runs through 24 August in Edinburgh.

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