Based on Homers The Iliad.

Words Glenn Blomfield

There is an intimate feeling about the Herald theatre in Aotea Centre. Walled up stadium seating, in close confinement confronting the stage. A stage dressed as if unprepared, unready for a production, the illusion of waiting to be used, or about to be used, all adding to the feel of backstage drama. Paint tins reveal spills on the floor, the odd prop leans against the walls, window frames and things from sets not used, a working bench table has music equipment silently sitting there, while a guitar next to it stands isolated alone. Objects like ghosts waiting to be used, mid-stage a table and chair while a bucket and mop sit idle. We the audience wait, murmuring away to ourselves as the house light stays on, but within this moment of waiting, in an environment that feels in-between productions, the show An Iliad walks on stage. Calm and unassuming, suitcase in hand, like a character from Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, the audience anticipates the start of the show. We adjust as we realise this unassuming moment has started.

The Iliad is an ageing elderly man, battling emotional anger, a Poet, who recalls the burden of memory of the ancient Homer’s story telling of the ten year battle between the Greeks and Trojans at the walls of Troy. No small tale, but one of epic scope and emotional toil, that fits the words and voice of a beleaguered bard.  The Poet played by actor Michael Hurst, places the suitcase on the table, what is inside carries the weight of memories past and burdens of what he is about to share. Memories and thoughts are always a struggle to grasp for it’s words and story, the ever toiling trouble of a poet. Iliad cries out for his muse, begging for help to carry the weight of this epic tale of Troy. His cries are successfully answered, as on walks from the side stage is musician Shayne P Carter, silently placing himself far left of stage to the awaiting whisper of his sound equipment and weapon of choice – A guitar. Hence forth is the duet of soundscape and tonal music, dramatic and emotional, a perfect soundtrack to Iliad’s epic monologue of passion, its moments of unbridled anger and rage, an exhausting and emotional labour fuelling the classic story of demi Gods and fearless warriors, all for the battle of Troy.

Hurst, which has to be said, is a gift to New Zealand stage and theatre. the charismatic actor certainly stands tall in stature when on stage, a vigour akin to that of a top athlete. Incredibly intense with a barrage of monologue, for 110 minutes, An Iliad’s exhaustive power acting delivers with emotive power, sinking its eliciting emotional density, drawing in every breath, every anguish, every bit of pain and emotional toil, that the story Troy elicits. For a play like this to exist, Hurst must of gone through an unbelievable amount of training, discipline to build and create his character. There is so much on stage, that can’t go without ignoring the unbelievable talent and passion to his chosen craft. I will try and not wag on about the amazing Michael Hurst, but it is simply outstanding. The power of his performance pulls on the narrative of Homer’s Troy classic, precluding the present world context. Wars that hamper our world’s history, continues to boil and enrage our future. There is one strong emotional memory for me in the play that sees Hurst the Poet, listing an exhaustive list of world wars, you feel the emotional tears of welling sadness of humanity, it is a very powerful moment.

“Calm and unassuming, suitcase in hand, like a character from Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, the audience anticipates the start of the show. We adjust as we realise this unassuming moment has started.”

I haven’t even yet touched on the story itself, which focuses on the duel at the end between the Greeks being led away with Achilles, and the Trojans great warrior and saviour Hector. There is so much detail, fragility and Shakespearian tragedy in one show, it could fill many. The telling of battles are like great action scenes from a movie. All this linked to our own world metaphorically compared in context to understand what this all means to our own fragile humanity. A classic story that will never lose its importance and prominence. Shayne P Carter, plays The Muse, delivering a haunting and sorrowful soundscape, all in sync to The Poets monologue. It feels like a duet feeding off each other, feeling their way through the emotions, delving into deep rage and sorrow, it is a concert of meeting minds. Not a rock concert per se, I would describe it as a soundtrack to a far off world, drawing haunting memories lost and found. It’s there and is not. What it does do, is draw you into compelling emotion, the combination works very well.

Overall ‘An Iliad’ is compulsary viewing. With no interval, Michael Hurst will captivate with unbelievable talent and craftsmanship. His muse Shayne P Carter illicits an engrossing musical score and transcendent soundtrack. Writers Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare have pulled together a rewarding theatrical show. Written with complexity and controlling details, it’s history lesson powerful. Let’s not omit director, Jonathon Hendry, who has the enviable task of controlling the beast, he’s pulled together a successful play that deserves and gives a rewarding theatrical experience. Bravo. Kiwi theatre is alive and kicking, don’t miss this unmissable show, it is an experience begging your attention – A standing ovation.