FringeReview Scotland 2019
Ewan Downie gives, through a solo performance that is both impressive and technically sound a blend of telling the story, physically giving us the pain and singing a haunting melody of sadness. It starts with the story, returning to it for reference whilst in between physically giving us the internal anguish of Achilles. It takes us from his refusal to engage in the Trojan War through to his raging revenge due to the death of his best friend, Patroclus, who was killed whilst wearing Achilles’ armour; the vengeance is swift and brutal.
There is immense skill in this piece. Downie enters the stage alone and in a square ring of battle, takes on the story as our singular narrator. It is a fascinating journey upon which he takes us through the thoughts and inner most feelings of a man with the expectations of a God. Achilles is someone who has taken the fight but not engaged in the fight until he has revenge in his heart. That journey is one which Downie has clearly engaged with on so many levels. Theatrically you can do nothing but admire the ability, skill and quality of the performance.
The issue, for me, is that as a Festival performance, this shines. It has clear merit in how it takes the storytelling and pushes the boundaries of what to expect and what is possible in a solo performance; it has edge throughout. Downie manages to engage with telling the story form the beginning as the physicality of the performance builds. I would have loved more strong physicality from the beginning. The movement pieces are slow burns and take you, once we get them in full swing, into the mind, soul and body of the Greek legendary figure. Again, this is impressive and when combined with the song, you can see how technically the performance combining all three elements had managed to gather such praise; of that it is worthy.
I saw it outside the festival circuit and on a cold Friday night in Cumbernauld, the challenge is to take quite a niche piece and get a mainstream audience to do more than see it as worthy. It is there that I started to struggle a little. In the thrust of the Cumbernauld stage, in a cavernous performance space, it began to feel like it was struggling. I found myself kicking myself, because I had not seen it in a more intimate space – even the larger spaces of Summerhall would have suited it – because the environment of the performance is very much part of it. I felt that Downie was struggling to communicate with an audience looking down upon it rather than being in amongst it.
Technically, the script and the song were combined in a clear and effective manner. There was no set, but the lighting gave some atmosphere. The lighting though did no.t always suit the moods required and much of it shone directly into the eyes of those of us watching. It was distracting.
I wanted so much to love this more and believe that it was a night when I should have been more fulsome, but the environment halted me. I can see within it a great piece of work that has much to commend it and would thoroughly recommend people go and see it for themselves. It perhaps needs to visit more comfortable and comforting places to keep its audience whilst the mainstream theatre circuit will be looking for different fare – not a criticism of the company but perhaps a thought into the next step is needed.