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Mr Monkey sees The Last Days of Troy at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 8th May 2014
End date : 7th June 2014
Visit date : 13th May, 2014
Helen (Lily Cole) watching from the walls of Troy (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey looking at the The Last Days of Troy poster
Mr Monkey trotted along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of The Last Days of Troy.

This production is the world premiere of The Last Days of Troy, which Simon Armitage has based on elements of Homer's Iliad and of Book II of Virgil's Aeneid.

The play covers the last few days of the Trojan war. The Greeks have been camped outside the walled city of Troy for 10 years and are becoming demoralised by their inablity to breach the city walls and by the increasingly arrogant actions of Agamemnon, their leader.

Inside the walls, the Trojans are also becoming demoralised as they are running short of supplies and there appears to be no chance of the Greeks ever going away.

Eventually a combination of Agamemnon's poor man-management skills, the intervention of the gods, and some impressively bad decision-making by the Trojans results in the fall of Troy.

The stage is empty, and very little scenery ever appears. On one side of the stage the seats have been removed and replaced with a rather imposing sloping wooden wall, while another wooden construction hangs threateningly over the stage until the final scenes.

At points the wooden wall is lowered to form a tunnel which funnels light and smoke out on to the stage for strikingly effective scenes of the armies working themselves up for battle. There's also a very physical swordfight when Hector finally faces Achilles, and a rather gruesome aftermath.

This is not a naturalistic play, but then it doesn't have naturalistic sources, though most of the language has been streamlined and modernised. There are an an awful lot of men shouting at each other, several goddesses pout to get the attention of Zeus, women mostly suffer, and most characters seem to behave like somewhat grumpy teenagers. Teenagers with swords, spears and armour.
Hector (Simon Harrison) leads the Trojans out to battle (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
The cast is excellent throughout. Lily Cole is striking but unemotional as Helen, her lack of emotion a not unreasonable reaction to having been cooped up in Troy with a lot of resentful Trojans for 10 years. Her lack of involvement with everyone else is heightened by her wearing white - the colour of the gods - in contrast to the red of the Trojans and the black clothing of the Greeks.

Mr Monkey was particularly impressed by David Birell's thuggish Agamemnon, Colin Tierney's cunningly manipulative Odysseus, and Richard Bremmer's wonderfully bad-tempered Zeus (especially at the start and end of the play, where Zeus is a somewhat shopworn ex-king of the gods, no longer worshipped but still immortal).
Hera (Gillian Bevan) and Zeus (Richard Bremner) experiencing the downside of immortality (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
While some parts are a bit bloody and gruesome, Mr Monkey found The Last Days of Troy an exciting production which brings Homer's epic to life.
The Last Days of Troy runs until 7th June 2014.

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