Words and movement crash together with such an enormous power that it becomes impossible to not be drawn into the mesmerising vibrancy of the imagary displayed on stage in the Company of Wolves’s Achilles. The remarkable show is brought to life by the dynamic and vivid solo performance of Ewan Downie. In a merge of physical theatre, song and spoken word, he perceives, he becomes, and he is the celebrated hero of Troy, the greatest warrior in Homer’s Iliad, a murderer, blind with rage.
Directed by Ian Spink and co-directed, written and performed by Downie himself, Achilles has been a long-planned and dedicated project of Scotland’s only laboratory theatre company, Company of Wolves, to investigate Achilles’s bottomless lust for revenge. The design by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita reduces the vast space of Bruford at Summerhall to a minimum: a controlled place for the uncontrollable rage. By casting long shadows onto each corner of the room, lighting designer Alberto Santos-Bellido nevertheless empowers Achilles to break out of the designated cage as a projection of his existential fight.
Downie is a reporter of the nine-year long war in Troy and Achilles’s refusal to fight. He stands next to him when the Trojans attack, led by their hero Hector, and Achilles’s beloved companion Patroclus is killed. He narrates Achilles’s preparation to fight, his blood-painted way towards Troy, and his final act of revenge: the murder of Hector and abuse of his corpse. Downie and the audience alike are witnesses of the ancient tale. However, the story finds a way into Downie’s body: his physique and voice transform into Achilles. Narration and action merge and body and voice are trapped between the outside and inside, painting a portrait of a man losing his humanity.
Company of Wolves have adapted Achilles’s vendetta through an interdisciplinary approach. They awaken his story through movement and song in a ritual ‘exorcism’ ceremony. Merging genres, perspectives, and narration and action, written words take shape in a combination of theatrical report by messenger, teichoscopy and Achilles’s first-person experience. The story, first merely narration, becomes an embodiment: Downie transforms from an outside witness into the agent Achilles. As a result of the growing emptiness and the grief he is unable to face, he violently rushes forward and destroys. Nevertheless, Achilles is about looking back and looking right into the brutal violence taking place on stage. Moving between time and place, it becomes a transformation, and an existential fight between the past, present and future of this man who turns way from himself.
In Achilles, the Company of Wolves investigates the role of a storyteller by clashing outside perspective and inside experience. Through this poetic force, the audience experiences the outside through vivid description and gradually becomes part of the inner transformation. The story of despair, determination, rage, revenge and hopelessness comes alive in front of their eyes, and more importantly, opens the door to participate in it. Achilles is an inalienable pull of words taking over the body of performer and audience alike. It is a masterpiece of theatre between narration and action and an outstandingly poetic and powerful performance of Downie about the loss of humanity and simultaneously a testimony to being human.
Achilles is playing at Bruford at Summerhall until 26 August. For more information and tickets, click here.