Tag Archives: Simon Armitage

Troy Story 3 – No Troy Gets Left Behind!……….The Last Days Of Troy by Simon Armitage

I am a fan of Troy Story. In Troy Story One, Homer’s The Iliad, I first fell for the magic of the all-powerful Achilles and his friendship with Patroclus which begat the most destructive revenge over Hector and the Trojans, neatly shrouded by THAT face which did so much for ship building! For Troy Story 2, it was the beautiful, haunting and wonderful Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller which I read last year. I didn’t think I did love stories. But the love between Achillies and Patroculus in this book was a joy to set my old alpha-male heart aglow! And now Troy Story 3 is here in the text of this new play, The Last Days of Troy by the poet Simon Armitage, again giving a different approach to the same story of Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon, Helen, Paris, Hector and that wooden horse.

 

photo (75)The Last Days Of Troy essentially takes the 15 000 or so lines of The Iliad and it’s 100’s of characters and condenses it into an 8 Act Play of about a dozen key players. In purely mathematical terms that’s a challenge in itself but Armitage carries it off with a style that borders on panache at times and with a dialogue that crackles and fizzes throughout. It opens with a modern day Zeus and Hera reduced to playing the role of metallic-painted statue impersonations of their god-like selves replete with cardboard sign proclaiming ‘Zeus’ and a tin cup to collect tourist coins! They use the model soldier and Greek God souvenir trinkets they sell to play out the initial movements of the war and to act as a link between the modern-day site of what’s believed to have been Troy and the action of the myths. It’s a very clever and effective approach.

But it’s when Simon Armitage’s play goes back to the war itself, to the Greek-Trojan rivalries and to the in-fighting on either side of the war, that the dialogue is at its best. The enmity and loathing between Achilles and Agamemnon drips off the page. On listening to the scheming string-pulling Odysseus making an offer of a daughter of Agamenon in marriage as part of resolving his quarrel with Achilles, his response is pretty…..er……………em…………….unequivocal!

“As for marrying into his family……..I wouldn’t mix my blood with his if his daughters were the last three cunts on earth. I’d fuck a dead animal first. Tell him that. Word for word.”

The mutual hatred between Achilles and Agamemnon is much more at the core of this version of the story than the love between Achilles and Patroclus is in ‘Song Of Achilles’. Even so…..on the death of his friend at the hands of Hector, Achilles vengeance is a fearful,all-conquering (except for that bloody heel!) and terrifying unleashing of a killing machine.

ACHILLES: Gifts or no gifts, all I want is Hector dead, and every Trojan that stands between his throat and this blade
AGAMEMNON: It’s what we all want. We want the same thing!
ACHILLES: And anyone who loves Hector – family or friend- to be broken and beaten, one at a time, so pain and torture are passed along to the last man, woman or child. Stripped out – right to the root.

Troy 4

There is so much to like and love in this as a play, that I’d love to see it. It ran at the Royal Exchange in Manchester ( the purpose for which it was partly written) with the model and actress Lily Cole as that face!!!! The dynamic between the lovers, Paris and Helen, Hector and Andromache is much more integral to the play than in either of the books I read and I thought it was much stronger for that. There’s a kind of inverted Macbeth and Lady Macbeth feel to some of the exchanges. In fact the strength of the women, and the barely concealed contempt and mistrust between Helen and Andromache, means that the role of the women in this tragedy is much more centre stage and again I think that’s a real strength of this telling of the story.

I wouldn’t think there will be too many people who’ll read this or watch the play who don’t know the story of Troy. But it’s still fresh and engaging and littered with brilliant one-liners that in some ways work even better BECAUSE it’s a play. They are short, pithy, sharp and they hit home brilliantly. And sometimes, it’s hard hitting for what’s not said…………!

Agamemnon is studying maps of the campaign. Odysseus enters.
AGAMEMNON: Say something positive or say nothing at all.
Odysseus doesn’t respond.
AGAMEMNON:Speak!
ODYSSEUS: Worse than yesterday. Disease…….fever………….

Above all, even though this is a play, it’s a great read as a book because it’s a great story, with such incredibly powerful characters and it’s brilliantly told. I have to confess I think Simon Armitage is a genius having loved his previous works like Gawain, and The Morte d’Arthur. Even allowing for that, as with the film franchise, Simon Armitage’s play has much to live up to in this re-telling of such a classic and timeless story. I can’t praise it more than to say Troy Story 3 is every bit as great as it’s illustrious predecessors. Or as someone much more erudite than me might have said, this will help ensure the story of Achilles and Troy goes……

“To infinity and beyond!”

Book Info

Simon Armitage’s The Last Days Of Troy was published by Faber and Faber. I bought my copy with my own hard-earned dosh.

There don’t seem to be many other blog reviews of the Last Days of Troy as a book around but I did find this review that I liked of the performance of it as play at Gerryco23.

The play ran at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester during May and June of this year. I missed it. Drat! It also ran during June at The Globe in London. I missed it. Double drat!!!!! 

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

Nine

 

What I Thought Of……….The Death Of King Arthur by Simon Armitage

The Arthurian stories have always been a source of enjoyment for me. In fact when I was a child and even as a young teenager, the abridged versions of these legends were fascinating to me. I voraciously devoured anything I could get my hands on about Arthur, or Lancelot, or Gawain. (Sir Gawain was my favourite and, if I’m honest, the more romantic and fanciful part of my childhood imaginings always wanted to be like Gawain – but chivalry, a decent steed and a Green Knight against whom I could pit my wits and courage were in pretty short supply on the streets of Glasgow in the 60’s!)

Until the last couple of years though I’d read nothing of Arthur as an adult, though I’ve watched and enjoyed the BBC series “Merlin”! That changed when Simon Armitage’s version of ‘Gawain and The Green Knight’ was published. The tale of the Green Knight had always been one of my favourite stories but reading it in poetic form was a revelation for me. I raved about it for weeks afterwards and for my poor family and for my colleagues at work I became a bit of a Gawain-bore! I even managed to persuade the staff book club at work to have it as the chosen title one month. (Everybody hated it – the Philistines – but I soldiered on Gawain-like, upholding the honour of Arthur and his knights through the darkest corridors of the un chivalrous nest of vipers and heathens that was the Local Government Civil Service where I worked at that time!!)

So having loved Simon Armitage’s version of Gawain, I was really looking to reading his version of the Morte D’Arthur. However it never quite hit the heights I’d expected and I actually found it a little flat in places to read. I think part of the reason was that the alliterative style that I’d loved on every single line in the Gawain book didn’t have that same effect as consistently in this book. I’ve thought about it since I’ve finished reading it and can only put it down to the sheer length of the Morte D’Arthur poem. I think it weighs in at more than 4000 lines – and essentially I found 4000 odd lines of alliterative verse a bit wearying in places. Having said that some of it was superb – especially the descriptions of the blood and gore and horror of the battles for places like Metz and Lorraine. Among the parts I especially loved were these:-

‘Then chieftains could be witnessed on chalk-white chargers
chasing and chopping down chivalrous chevaliers,
regal Romans and royal kings,
their ribs ripped apart by ripe steel.
Brains burst through their burnished helmets,
battered by blade on those broad fields,
They hewed down heathens with hilted swords,
with a host of hundreds by the edge of the holt,
No silver could save them or secure their souls,
not Sultan, nor Saracen nor senator of Rome.’

 

‘ Then our chivalrous men charged their chargers
and chased and chopped down many noble chieftains,
hitting out heartily at helmets and shields, hurting and hewing through those heathen knights.
Through kettle-hats they cleaved, cutting to the shoulder – 
such a clamour of captains was never heard on earth!’

 

Great, gratuitous, gruesome gory alliterative stuff!

The poem is a huge sweeping panorama of the final battles of Arthur leading to his death at the hands of the traitor Mordred. I enjoyed this overall sweep of the story, though in places I found the poem’s tendency to go off into tangents and then come back again broke up the flow of it a little for me. As befits the legend that is Arthur, and as befits a 4000 line poem, there’s a vast range of characters but they all have a bit of a ‘walk-on part’ feel with the exception of Arthur himself. And perhaps that was also an issue for me in being slightly underwhelmed on reading it – while I always fancied myself becoming Gawain or Lancelot I never really fancied myself as Arthur!

While parts of the book didn’t quite hit the mark for me in some ways, what I did enjoy, and hadn’t expected, was the pleasure I got from reading something with such fantastic origins and with such a wonderful history. All the time I read it and even now writing about it, I’m conscious that this is a poem that’s hundreds of years old and is part of a tradition of story-telling which has been passed from generation to generation over centuries.

I believe there are only two surviving copies of the original Morte D’Arthur in existence and one of these is in the wonderful library at Lincoln Cathedral. Simon Armitage is due to appear there in May to talk about the Morte D’Arthur. If you’d like to know more about it you can get details from Lincoln Cathedral.

Even though I couldn’t praise this in the way I could Gawain and the Green Knight, I’m still in love with the wonderful world of Arthur and the Round Table and I think the chance to hear Simon Armitage speak on it is something I wouldn’t want to miss! And when I’m there listening, in my head I’m sure there will be a part of me that fantasising about being the wonderous Sir Gawain!

Love At First Sight In A Greenock Library

“I claim there ain’t / Another Saint / As great as Valentine!” wrote Ogden Nash. These days I think Valentine might be less than keen on the rampant commercialism of this celebration and demonstration of love in his name – I saw cards yesterday inscribed “Happy Valentines Day to Our Son”!!! What’s that about?

I started my Valentines Day early this morning reading Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poetry in Human Chain and went back again to my favourite poem in the collection, Route 101, in which Heaney traces his journey through life in a series of moments laid over Virgil’s Aeneid and the move to the underworld. But it was the fantastic beginning which brought me to remember my first love – books!

Heaney’s poem begins with this scene of him buying a book as an adolescent “In a stained front-buttoned shopcoat / Sere brown piped with crimson / Out of the Classics bay into an aisle /  Smelling of dry rot and disinfectant / She emerges, absorbed in her coin count / Eyes front, right hand at work / In the slack marsupial vent / Of her change – pocket, thinking what to charge / For a used copy of Aeneid VI. / Dustbreath bestirred in the cubicle mouth / I inhaled as she slid my purchase / Into a deckle edged brown paper bag”. If anything captures the beauty and the preciousness in the hum-drum, everyday, ordinariness of buying a book, then this is it for me.

Book love began at first sight in Bawhirely Road library in Greenock where I grew up. In my memories it is the most beautiful, the most grand and the most imposing of buildings! In reality it’s not any of those things as you can see!!

But to my seven-year-old eyes it was a rite of passage becoming a member – but nothing on the exterior prepared me for falling instantly in love with row upon row of books, most spine out but some with that tantalising “come and try me” look as they were displayed front on. The counter was solid and smelt of varnish, but it had a crenellated section for kids – it was hewn I think rather than cut – a bit more heavy axe than refined jigsaw had created I’d guess! I’d linger and dally over choosing so long I’d frequently be “encouraged” to choose and get out with the words “If you don’t get a move on you’ll be sleeping here!”. And I’d have loved to! And years later I did finally sleep with books – I was the Headteacher of a school in Essex when the local library tried to promote books by running  a sleepover in the library – I immediately signed up and it was great – I still feel warmed by the memory of sliding into my sleeping bag surrounded by words!

And in the same way that I can reflect back over the years of being in love with my beautiful partner, I can also reflect on moments in my love affair with books, reading and stories. I remember the joy of getting a multiple book library ticket, staying up all night for the first time to finish “The Count of Monte Cristo”, being asked to leave a bookshop after collapsing into an uncontrollable fit of giggling on reading the blurb on the back of Spike Milligan’s “Adolf Hitler, My Part In His Downfall!”, discovering the world of Arthur and the Round Table emerging with my favourite hero of all time Sir Gawain, (even more than Eric Cantona and Guy Garvey from Elbow), waiting with endless plays of Genesis “Wind and Wuthering” in the background on my O Level /  GCSE results and yet being more worried about Prince Andrei and Natasha in War and Peace than the results, sitting as a hitch-hiking student by a flea-ridden hotel pool in Greece crying with laughter at the antics of Sancho Panza and Don Quixote and then 25 years later crying by the edge of a stunningly beautiful hotel pool in Greece at the end of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Angel Game” (I’d come a long way in hotel quality but the story quality had been constant throughout!) and re-discovering the majestic Simon Armitage version of Gawain and The Green Knight! These and many more have filled so many minutes, hours and days for me over the years – but today I was grateful to Seamus Heaney for reminding me that my book journey began in that library 43 years ago!

If you’d like to share the moments that mark your book journey I’d love to hear what they are!