Home / Drama / INTERVIEW: Mike Pearson on his long-haul production of ILIAD for National Theatre Wales

INTERVIEW: Mike Pearson on his long-haul production of ILIAD for National Theatre Wales

After critical acclaim for their large-scale productions of Aeschylus’ The Persians and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, long-time collaborators Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes return to National Theatre Wales. Based on Christopher Logue’s interpretation of Homer’s epic poem, ILIAD isn’t just a play; it’s arguably a test of endurance. Mike Pearson spoke to Jafar Iqbal.

“I’m really interested in the effect of an 8-hour performance,” says Mike Pearson, when asked about the reasons behind this brave decision, “what that does for an audience, what it suddenly makes possible. And really, the material itself. I’ve long been interested in Christopher Logue’s rendering of The Iliad, and I think the only real way to present it is to do the whole thing, every singleword, because it’s such a fantastic text. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that. I know he himself did actually work on a much shorter theatrical version, I think in San Francisco, but this is simply the challenge of trying to mount that whole work which is what really attracted us.”

Understandably, with such ambitious aims, the process has been a challenge: “The particular problem with the Logue text, of course, is that it’s not a dramatic text. It is a poetic text,and, therefore, the job of dividing it, distributing it between six performers was quite a job, really, and I suppose most of my time has been spent on that.” Making that process as easy as possible meant doing a lot of pre-preparation before the rehearsal got started, but “certainly, the designs for the piece, the soundscape, the video material, film material,we’ve actually been working on for a considerable time.”

iliadPart of that pre-preparation was filming material with a group of teenagers, who play the Gods in the piece. “It was one of those ideas thatcomein the shower,” Pearsonmuses. “I think I had the notion, I approached Mike [Brookes] and we instantly thought it was a great idea. Largely because, in the Logue text, the Gods speak more colloquially than the Greeks and Trojans. And it’s they who are portraying all those human characteristics, of bickering and so on that are hugely part of the teenage world and giving humans, i.e. adults, a hard time. That seemed to fit really well.”

These three collaborations from the two Mikes, along with NTW’s last show, {150}, display a commitment from the company to produce work with ambition and innovation. Pearson is optimistic, not just about ILIAD’s success, but what it means for Wales: “I think, in Wales, we’ve developed certain kinds of approaches totheatre-making, which have become a bit of a signature style. And of course, for years and years and years, we’ve addressed Welsh material.

“The development of those particular approaches came hand in hand with mounting Welsh material. I think now, we feel rather more confident, certainly after Coriolan/us, to try and apply those particular approaches, techniques, technologies to a broader spectrum of material. And certainly, a Welsh audience seems to be very appreciative of The Persians and Coriolan/us and what we’d done, and so we felt that Homer, because of its status within Western culture, was a fairly obvious body of material to approach.”

When asked what might be next on the cards, Pearson seems undecided: “I think Mike and I are thinking we should do an opera next, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. Or perhaps something a little moretourable. I think we’d like to make a piece of work that we can tour more easily. Effectively these are site works. Even though we’re working in a theatre, the changes we’re bringing to the auditorium itself are quite substantial and I don’t think we could do that on tour, particularly. So perhaps something slightly moretourable. Or an opera.”


ILLIAD runs from 21 September – 3 October 2015 at The Ffwrnes, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire



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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.