Sunday 29 June 2014

Alex Baranowski - Last Days of Troy 2014 - Globe Theatre Music review (new score)

Lily Cole as Helen of Troy in The Last Days of Troy, © Jonathan Keenan
Lily Cole as Helen of Troy in The Last Days of Troy
© Jonathan Keenan
Simon Armitage The Last Days of Troy, music by Alex Baranowski: Shakespeare's Globe
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on June 27 2014
Star rating: 3.0

The Last Days of Troy by Simon Armitage
Premiered Royal Exchange Manchester May 8 2014
Transferred to Shakespeare's Globe (run - 10-28 June 2014)
With acoustic music specially composed by Alex Baranowski (born 1983)
Whose film score for McCullin has just won best Feature Film score award at Cannes (June 2014)

In The Last Days of Troy Lily Cole – model & actress, stars as Helen of Troy - 'The face that launched 1000 ships' - bringing Homer's Iliad to the Globe stage.

Having reviewed the use of new scores at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, on London's South Bank since year 2000, I couldn't resist the opportunity to go along to review Alex Baranowski's music for 'The Last Days of Troy' when I heard towards the end of its run that he had just won best Feature Film score award at Cannes June 21st. Born in 1983, such an achievement at so young an age. Trained at Paul McCartney's 'LIPA' (Liverpool institute of Performing Arts) and the winner of other impressive accolades, he has already written music for plays at The Royal Court theatre, National Theatre, and will be the composer for 'Street Car named Desire' at the Young Vic this July, which has apparently already sold out. He also wrote the music for Globe's Henry VI trilogy, 2013

The Last Days of Troy, © Jonathan Keenan
The Last Days of Troy, © Jonathan Keenan
So sitting at the ready at Shakespeare's Globe last night (27 June) for 'Last Days of Troy' I was a little surprised that although the play itself swept along with momentum, the actual music was mostly somewhat understated apart from the intoning of 2 large drums on stage at intervals to denote the thunder of Zeus, God of War, as the Greeks battled to win back the beautiful Helen, stolen from her husband Menelaus by Paris 10 years previously, and carried off to Troy. Helen - 'the face that launched a thousand ships' was aptly portrayed by Lily Cole, whose modelling as well as acting experience held her in good stead. Recently graduated from Cambridge, her poised, austere demeanour as she appeared on stage at intervals to utter the short sentence or 'bon mot', gracefully decorative worked fine, until in the second half of the play she had to sing a solo, unaccompanied, 'Song of Troy' by way of encouragement to the brave Greek soldiers hidden within the City of Troy waiting to strike and win her back. It is not unusual at the Globe for actors on stage to have to sing solos willy nilly with varied degrees of aplomb, but Helen really could have done without having to tackle such an exposed solo at that poignant moment in the play.

As a member of the audience sitting near me commented afterwards when she heard I was reviewing the music; 'well there wasn't much except the big drums, and Helen's solo which didn't really come across very well'. I of course retorted that there was in fact an ensemble of 16 male singers periodically singing on stage, dressed as soldiers but she didn't seem to have noticed them.

This is the age old trouble with Theatre Music in general; audiences get absorbed by the action of the Play and often only notice the music if it jars or is loud, (like the drums). In fact near the beginning of the play we see the ensemble of 16 men come on stage in black singing in close harmony – almost barbershop style seizing also the opportunity to remove the couch on which Zeus had been lounging, as he switched roles as past and present Zeus. (In the present, he oft plays the role of wandering salesman selling plastic images of himself in his ancient role as god of storms and war).

This singing ensemble do similarly sterling work throughout the play in addition to gentle lyrical music wafting to us from behind the black screen at back of the stage, sounding as if from tubular bells and vibraphones, etc in line with the Globe's tradition of exclusive use of acoustic instruments played live on stage or in the environs around and about. There is also impressive loud stumping of spears into the stage by the male ensemble, at warlike moments in the final battle.

There were fine performances on stage from the ever brave Greek warrior Achilles (Jake Fairbrother), and Agamemnon (David Birrell) who has come to reclaim Helen for Greece on behalf of her more timid Greek husband Menelaus. There is a sumptuous bedroom scene featuring Helen and flamboyant Trojan husband Paris, whose theft of her was what the Trojan wars are all about. As Zeus declares later from the Gallery; 'Helen of Greece, Helen of Slaughter'.

However as the play concludes with victory for the Greeks under Achilles' leadership, and most of Troy slaughtered, Helen is loathe to leave her Trojan maid Andromache(Clare Calbraith) who has survived. As Helen is left to walk off stage alone to join the victorious Greek fleet as she is bid, and head for home, could it be that after 10 years away, she is hesitating, a little cautious about this new stage of her life-picking up the threads again of her old life with Menelaus?

I should add that the black screen to rear of stage is for Titus Andronicus - Shakespeare's most gory play - in a revival of the 2006 globe production with superb music to match from Django Bates, which I reviewed for an academic journal when it premiered. It runs till 13 July. See it if you can---!

The Last Days of Troy
Written by Simon Armitage
Directed by Nick Bagnall
Music composed by Alex Baranowski
Chief Characters:- Helen of Troy - Lily Cole
Zeus - Richard Bremmer
Achilles - Jake Fairbrother
Hector – Simon Harrison
Paris - Tom Stuart
Agamemnon - David Birrell
Music Ensemble - 16 Male Singers - chiefly singing on stage dressed as soldiers in black

Reviewed by Jill Barlow
 © Jill Barlow 28 June 2014

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