The Last Days of Troy preview: A model production

Kevin Bourke
Photo of Lily Cole.

The Last Days of Troy by celebrated poet Simon Armitage includes the legend of the Trojan Horse – and brings actress and international model Lily Cole to the stage.

Even if the inspired casting of Lily Cole as the famously beautiful Helen Of Troy – “the face that launched a thousand ships” – was all The Last Days Of Troy had going for it, it would still be a pretty hot ticket. But when you add in that it’s written by Simon Armitage, one of Britain’s best-known and respected poets, and directed by Nick Bagnall, who is among contemporary theatre’s most respected young directors (Bagnall’s recent work includes directing three action-packed Henry VI plays at Shakespeare’s Globe), then The Last Days of Troy’s World Premiere in May at the Royal Exchange becomes well-nigh unmissable.

Armitage, who also penned the brilliant Black Roses – The Killing Of Sophie Lancaster for the Exchange (which is currently touring to community venues – catch it if you can), has based this new play on Homer’s The Iliad. Armitage’s version tells the story of two countries moving towards war – how conflict starts in a petty way and then escalates at a great cost to human life. Told through the eyes of Achilles, The Last Days of Troy culminates in the legendary tale of the Trojan Horse.

Starring Lily Cole, the face that has launched a thousand brands

“The Iliad is a great action story,” enthuses Armitage. “The war itself is a story of East versus West, so I don’t think it’s too hard to see the parallels with the contemporary political world. Plus there’s a big horse! But beyond the battlefield it’s actually a back-room story of wounded pride, human virtues and the push and pull of family ties and national loyalty. It’s tense and intriguing with moments of great tragedy and breath-taking humility; everything we have come to expect of the great myths.”

Although it is likely to guarantee interest outside of the theatre’s normal patrons (and I remember sitting amidst a seething mass of “national” critics at the Exchange, furious that their editors had insisted they leave London to review Will Young’s stage debut in The Vortex…), the presence of Cole is by no means mere gimmick-casting. She may be the face that launched a thousand brands, but this hugely successful model has long insisted that acting is her first love. Cole’s was one of the standout performances in Terry Gilliam’s forgivably messy film (star Heath Ledger died midway through!) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. So it’s not just for the fame factor that you should go and see The Last Days of Troy – this production has a lot more going for it than that.

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