The new play by celebrated Huddersfield poet and writer Simon Armitage, ‘The Last Days of Troy’, which opened at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester yesterday, is a major ‘first’ for the Marsden-based dramatist.
Because after a five-week run in the northern city the production, a dramatisation of the brutal conclusion to Homer’s Iliad, will re-locate to the world-famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.
“This will be an exciting first for me on both counts,” says Simon, “I’ve had a play at the Exchange before but only in the studio theatre. I’ve not done anything for their main house. And I’ve not had one at the Globe. It’s a big added bonus.”
‘The Last Days of Troy’ is Simon’s second foray into the world of Greek myths and legends for dramatic material, and his fourth play. In 2000 he published Mister Heracles, a re-working of Athenian playwright Euripides’ famous tragedy, for the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
This time he has examined the cycles of conflict and revenge in what is perhaps one of the best known Greek legends. The play was commissioned by the Royal Exchange.
So how did ‘The Last days of Troy’, which stars model and actress Lily Cole as the femme fatale Helen, come to be snapped up by the Globe as well?
Simon explains: “The director that I have been working with at the Exchange had been working at the Globe and heard about it and thought that it would fit their summer season very well.”
Understandably, he is more than delighted that his play will be sandwiched between performances of The Bard’s works at the London theatre’s open air auditorium.
“We’ll be making a pilgrimage from Huddersfield, a couple of dozen of us, family and a lot of friends, to see it,” he added.
Although raised in a family steeped in amateur dramatics, Simon admits that he knew little about Greek myths and legends until his career as a poet began. But he soon realised these ancient stories were a gold mine of inspiration.
He explained: “They have been a kind of archaeology for me; digging a little bit further; dusting a little bit more off them. I didn’t have that classical education; I didn’t study English at university; but I excavated these stories.”
Of course he is not alone in being fascinated by the adventures, love stories and tragedies of classical heroes and heroines.
“Myths and legends are very modish,” he admits, “they are finding their way into movies and even, I’m told, into computer games, although I don’t play them myself.
“There is something in these ancient stories and myths, with their fantastical elements, which excites people.”
And Simon believes that their enduring popularity is also linked to the fact that most of us can relate in some way to the human foibles and frailties of the characters.
“They are recognisably human,” he says, “but in situations that take them to their limit, and I think that’s why the stories have never really dissolved or eroded.”
‘The Last Days of Troy’ is at the Royal Exchange until June 7. It can be seen at The Globe from June 10.
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