Brighton Year-Round 2022
Troy – Something BC. A young bull herder accidentally eats a golden apple. Three Goddesses aren’t happy. And then ten years later a city burns.
Obviously, a lot happened in between these points and several important things happened before, all of which will be shown for the first time in well over a millennium as Assembleth Theatre take you on a journey through the Trojan war as you’ve never seen it before.
“Nobody pull at these threads, or the whole thing will come crashing down!”
Hector (Plum Grosvenor-Stevenson) and Paris (Josephine Helen) are travelling from Troy to Sparta by sea, in presumably a galley of some kind, though it’s actually a very small inflatable dinghy that they’re standing in. “Look, Sparta”, says Hector, to which Paris replies that the boat hasn’t moved. “Yes it did – it was just very quick, and you didn’t notice.” Hector follows that put-down by the line I’ve quoted at the top – which seemed to me to sum up Assembleth Theatre’s whole approach to ‘The Shodyssey’.
There are three actors in this production: the two already mentioned as well as Cal Moffat, and between them they portray thirteen characters – Gods, Heroes and mortals – and give us the entire classical history of Troy; from its founding, right up to the destruction of the walls at the climax of the Trojan War. So there are a lot of character changes and yes, a tiny inflatable has to serve as a galley, and a brick-patterned fabric sheet thrown over a support panel becomes the walls of Troy. Moffat himself played two kings – Menelaus and Priam – simply by rotating a crown which had SPARTA and TROY on opposite sides. The audience had to work hard to keep up with who was who, and where was where – to be fairly grown-up, in fact; though this show is aimed at all ages and at least a third of the audience were quite young.
Quite a Brechtian production – as well as the developing story, there were loads of knowing asides to the audience. They didn’t just destroy the walls of Troy, they tore down the ‘fourth wall’ that usually separates the spectators from the action. Initially I’d wondered how this approach would appeal to the youngsters – they seemed to be aged from around ten to their early teens – but every time I could tear my eyes away from the stage to check … they were riveted!
This is a very funny and fast-paced show. My only complaint is that I think they’ve got the title wrong. Odysseus is there, certainly, but it’s his part in the Trojan War – the Iliad – that Assembleth have given us; nothing about his long return to Ithaca except right at the end when he asks what a Cyclops is. To my mind they should have called it ‘The Silliad’. It’s cleverly written, but also very, very, very silly.
Did you know, for example, that the Queen of Sparta was actually called Beryl? No, me neither. Or that the great warrior Achilles spoke with a heavy Scottish accent? Or of the exchanges at the gates of Troy (two heads peeking over the top of the fabric wall to see who’s there) when Odysseus tells them “We’d like to come inside and kill you”, and Priam the Trojan King replies “I’m afraid that’s not really going to work for us”. Diplomacy, eh?
And don’t even think of asking about Helen of Troy …
There are loads of great gags in the show – but I’m not going to give them all away here as that would spoil it for you when you see it. Also, you haven’t paid, and Assembleth need the money, so why should you get them for free? (Actually I didn’t pay either – but I’m a reviewer so I’ve got an excuse …) Some jokes are right up to the minute – the costs of building the Trojan walls have risen eighty percent, and the King screams “We need a windfall tax!” Some jokes are older – when the Greeks have arrived at Troy, Odysseus reassures them that “Don’t worry, the war will be over by Christmas …” Some jokes are pure luck – Hercules (yes, he was also involved in the history of Troy) boasts “I’ve conquered Troy and killed all the Royal Family”, at which point Cal Moffat muttered (this was the week before The Queen’s funeral, remember) “We could have timed that joke better …”.
It’s always a treat to see Classical Greek Theatre, especially in an alfresco horseshoe space like B.O.A.T. I can’t recall seeing three actors produce such a variety of characters and situations, using the simplest of props (along with the audience’s imagination) to keep the timelines moving forward and – almost – stop them getting tangled (to hilarious effect). The sheer chutzpah and zany humour of Assembleth’s creation made it feel like Homer re-written as ‘Horrible Histories’.