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Memorial - Barbican Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

FROM September 27 to September 30, 2018, Brink Productions and the Barbican are presenting Memorial, a theatrical adaptation of Alice Oswald’s brilliantly original reimagining of Homer’s Iliad by a poet who is also a classicist.

The concept for the production and direction comes from Brink Production’s Artistic Director, Chris Drummond and Artistic Director of Circa, Yaron Lifschitz, with music by Jocelyn Pook.

The UK premiere is presented at the Barbican as part of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s official arts programme for the First World War centenary.

In Memorial, Alice Oswald strips away Homer’s narrative and attends to its atmosphere, its enargeia, or “bright unbearable reality” with a memorialising of every soldier named in the Iliad, juxtaposed with exquisite similes describing vast movements in time and nature. The result is a concentrated, intense elegy in which each soldier’s death characterises the man and each death is different, a compelling litany of the war-dead.

Oswald conceived Memorial as a poem to be spoken out loud in the spirit of the Greek oral tradition, believing that the Iliad is an invocative poem, a lament, speaking directly to the dead.

In a fusion of music, choreography and theatre, the celebrated Australian actress Helen Morse will perform Memorial, her lone voice embodying the voice of the gods, of the elements, of time itself and of lives arrested in visceral moments of war.

The stage will be populated with men and women drawn from a wide cross-section of the community to create a choric presence simultaneously evoking the 215 soldiers named in the poem and their connections to home and loved ones.

Reflective, meditative and dynamic, the show stands as a requiem to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice during conflict and war.

Jocelyn Pook’s original live score provides a counter voice to the text, weaving an unbroken thread throughout the piece with a vocal and musical ensemble including soprano and composer, Melanie Pappenheim, Macedonian vocalist, Tanja Tzarovska, counter tenor, Jonathan Peter Kenny, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Belinda Sykes, cellist/singer Laura Moody and violinist/singer, Kelly McCusker.

Using old and new instruments, the score draws on an eclectic array of inspirations from Macedonian folk to chamber music, field recordings and electronic music.

Alice Oswald’s second collection of poetry, Dart, won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2002. Her third collection, Words etc. won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 2006 and in 2009 she was awarded the Hawthornden Prize for A Sleepwalk on the Severn, a night piece for several voices set on the Severn Estuary.

Alice Oswald said: “The Iliad is an important poem to me because I believe the soldiers it mentions were real people. It has always, I think, been read as a heroic epic rather than a lament. It would be wonderful if we could bring out this other, quieter Iliad in a performance which commemorates the 14-18 war as well as the wars at Troy and elsewhere.”

Toni Racklin said: “Memorial is a powerful tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives in conflict, whether ancient or modern. The Barbican is delighted to be the co-commissioner, with 14-18 NOW, of Alice Oswald’s extraordinary dramatic poem, and to present work of this epic nature on the Barbican stage, with 215 participants from community choirs representing each of the deaths depicted in the poem.

“We are thrilled to continue our relationship with Circa’s Yaron Lifschitz and to further our celebration of Australian work through this commission from Brink Productions. We welcome further collaboration with 14–18 NOW following the success of The Forbidden Zone in 2016 and Beware of Pity in 2017.”

Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with the Barbican once again for this powerful commemoration of the First World War. Memorial, by Alice Oswald, and this new production, connect today’s audiences to the history and sacrifices made by those who lived it 100 years ago. This commission is a highlight of our final 14-18 NOW season, in which we continue to engage audiences in the centenary through the lens of art.”

Directed by Chris Drummond, Memorial is designed by Michael Hankin, with costumes by Renate Henschke, lighting by Nigel Levings and sound by Jane Rossetto. Associate Director is Benjamin Knapton and music director is Jonathan Peter Kenny.

Memorial is suitable for ages 12+.

Tickets: £16 – £40 plus booking fee (Young Barbican tickets available at £10 plus booking fee). Priority booking for Barbican Members opens on Wednesday, January 24 and public booking opens on Tuesday, January 30.

Times: 7.45pm; 3pm only on Sunday, September 30.

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval).