Homer’s The Iliad is, above its poetry and deep influence upon Western arts and literature, bloody. After all, this is the story of a ten-year siege on an impenetrable city. There are bound to be some casualities. Alice Oswald’s Memorial doesn’t shy away from this fact, it embraces it. The two hundred and fifty characters named in The Iliad who meet their demise are commemorated in this fascinating production from Brink Productions. Restless audience members be warned; this is testing material, and the proof of its success for you will be in how you endure it’s hour-and-a-half runtime.
Memorial begins as it means to continue. The curtain opens on a sea of bodies, arranged on a flat grassy plain as they raise their hands to the sun, like grain stalks. One by one, they are resurrected, and begin a sort of carnival of the dead.
They are called into action by Oswald’s words, voiced by actor Helen Morse, playing a sort of god. Capitalising that term would give her character more agency than is present; she is more of a voice for the voiceless around her, memorialising the masses fallen in battle. It is a powerful performance of great stamina.
She is only slimly outshone by the collective energies of the 215 volunteers around her, who duck and weave through each other with astonishing unison. This is a great show of choreography from Yaron Lifschitz and artistic director Chris Drummond.
The true highlight of this production is the band. The suite of music that accompanies this performance is sublime. Composed by Jocelyn Pook, the songs seem as if they are conjured from a deep well of sadness, given depth by the vocal work underpinning them. Mezzo soprano Melanie Pappenheim’s voice stands out as a clear talent, as evidenced by her previous work with Pook.
The stories of each of the dead come and come and come; they are unrelenting in their grief, and their frequency. While this is at times trying to sit through, the oddly-triumphant ending more than makes up for this. Memorial is beautiful, and showcases a perfect storm of talent.
Reviewed by CJ McLean
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Now until March 6th
Duration: 1hr 30mins
Tickets: Adult $69, Under 30s $30