Scenes from a Brummie Iliad – The STUDIO, Birmingham REP

Writer: Roderick Smith, based on Homer’s Iliad

Directors: Madeleine Kludje and Philip Morris

Reviewer: James Garrington

Homer’s Iliad is a lengthy and detailed epic poem, with a huge array of characters – Greeks, Trojans and Gods. That undoubtedly creates difficulties in translating even the essence of a part of it onto the stage. Writer Roderick Smith has had a fair crack at it though with Scenes from a Brummie Iliad – a version of the epic written to be performed in a Brummie accent and celebrating the local vernacular.

The play picks up partway through the poem – it’s the height of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, and the Greeks’ best warrior, Achilles, is refusing to fight because his leader has stolen his girl. His protégé Patroclus persuades Achilles to lend him his armour, so he can lead the fight instead. This leads to a series of battles, with divine intervention from time to time, until Achilles and the Trojan hero Hector finally meet face to face – and there can be only one winner.

Directors Madeleine Kludje and Philip Morris, along with designer Ebrahim Nazier, have created some interesting and thoughtful staging for the piece, allowing for a cast of 50 or so to appear on the relatively small space available in the Studio. They have clearly also spent a lot of time working with the REP’s Adult Drama Company and Lightpost Company, managing the large numbers on stage and creating opportunities for as many people as possible to have a degree of involvement in the production. Of the 50 people involved, the vast majority end up playing some character or other and their friends and family in the audience give them their full support.

Creating opportunities is undoubtedly one of the REP’s aims with these productions, and it’s a wonderful ambition – but in the process, we end up with a situation where far too much of the dialogue is either inaudible or unintelligible, particularly during the first half. Thank goodness for the surtitles, as without them it would be easy to be completely lost – though it does mean that your attention is focused as much above the stage as at the action on it. The situation is not helped by the large number of characters that appears and trying to keep track of who’s who, and which side they’re on, becomes quite tricky – a difficulty which is compounded by the cast switching between characters at the interval.

As the second act settles down it does start to make sense again. The delivery improves and the story becomes easier to follow, creating something that is interesting and enjoyable to watch providing some flesh on the bones of the Iliad story for those who aren’t familiar with it.

It’s a well-conceived production of a challenging piece, providing opportunities for a large cast to be involved in making theatre – but it’s one that is often confusing due to the large array of characters and some poorly-delivered dialogue

Runs Until 20 July 2019 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Well-conceived but not always well-executed

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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