The show started as a commission by the British Museum – they had asked for a 25 minute piece to fit into their Creative Responses To Troy event as part of their Troy Exhibition. So in April 2019 we set about brainstorming ideas around The Illiad and settled upon the very human story of Hector and Andromache.
At the same time, we were contacted by the University of St Andrews as part of their CPUGRD outreach, who offered to partially fund our initial development stage and help inform our classical research behind the show.
Thus in August 2019 we embarked on a one week physical development process in St Andrews involving several highly insightful sessions with select academics who helped inspire our piece which was, at the time, a physical rendering of the tragedy of Hector and Andromache. This was shared with various University Staff Members and then brought back to London and shared with family, friends and fellow theatre makers. The result of both sharings being that we knew we wanted to find a modern parallel to the Hector and Andromache tale in order to make our show relevant to a modern audience.
After several months of further research, taking much from books including Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America, as well as Vietnam Wives by Aphrodite Matsakis and Jon Hesk’s publication on Sophocles’ Ajax (another hero struggling with trauma); we then, in Autumn 2019, set upon another week of R&D at The Redbridge Drama Centre. Here, we began working with Andres Velasquez, as Director, and decided to introduce two modern day characters: Alec, a veteran from Iraq or Afghanistan perhaps, and Bea his wife. We explored Achillean traits in Alec as well as similarities with the classical hero Ajax, and we sought to find similarities and differences with the modern day army wife, and a character such as Andromache, or Penelope, whilst at the same time, trying to find the character’s own stories. It was at this time that we commissioned Trestle Theatre Company to design and make our bespoke masks. They went further and delivered a mask workshop to us and will potentially collaborate on a schools side to a UK tour in the future.
Then, in February 2020, we returned to St Andrews for two further weeks of development, with more input from the academics and time and space to experiment with physical approaches to creating a show paralleling an ancient hero-war narrative and a very real story of grief, trauma and love. We looked at the grief of Achilles when he loses Patroclus and explored what the loss of a comrade can do to a modern soldier. Via our contact with Alice Konig, who has a lot of experience working and workshopping with soldiers in barracks across the country, we expanded our research to include what it is to be a modern day soldier and what it is to be a soldier’s wife.
We had planned for the full show to be premiered in Edinburgh 2020 at Army at the Fringe’s Drill hall venue but due to Covid, this has been pushed back to at least 2021. However, through a summer webinar, we delivered as part of a Army@thefringe’s virtual festival we met Lt Col Wendy Faux RA, the Lead in Arts Engagement with the British Army, who is very excited about the project, and has pledged support in a number of ways.
Our partner Dr Alice König then secured further funding for the shows development in the Spring 2021, within the Visualising War Project which examines the interplay between battle narratives in ancient & modern cultures. As part of this period of R&D we spoke to military personnel and partners and filmed selected extracts, which have been shown in online workshops for students, academics, creatives, military and civilians probing:
- How modern dramatisations of war can uphold/distort reality
- The responsibility involved in retelling war stories.
- How historic tales influence modern habits of thinking about war.