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Festival review: Memorial

Adelaide Festival

‘Memorial’ is an elegy for the fallen soldiers of The Iliad that, through its potent alchemy of poetry, music and clever use of an enormous chorus, delivers a powerful statement about the human cost of war.

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Directed by Brink Productions’ Chris Drummond, the intense and multi-layered Memorial is based on English poet Alice Oswald’s prize-winning poetry collection Memorial: An excavation of the Iliad, with the script remaining true to the text of the collection.

The genius of Memorial is that rather than retelling the Homer’s account of Trojan War, Oswald has removed all the narrative from the story. All that is left are the names of the fallen soldiers, short biographies of their lives, the gruesome nature of their deaths and her stunning translations of Homer’s lyrical descriptions of war, loss and mourning.

While the poetry is undeniably powerful, the performance of Helen Morse in this production is simply extraordinary. She gives voice to the entire poem, demonstrating the reason she is one of Australia’s most acclaimed stage performers.

To say Morse recites it would be an injustice. She embodies the poem, a lone storyteller invoking the names and the lives of the dead, mourning them and creating an atmosphere that is utterly spellbinding. Dressed in the one saturated splash of colour on the set, she is a streak of blood amid the pale, earthen tones of the soldier chorus.

This great soldier chorus of 215 people, one person for each fallen combatant named in The Iliad, is drawn from the local community and has the powerful effect of conjuring up the atmosphere of a diverse populace impacted by the loss and senseless tragedy of war.

Cleverly choreographed by Yaron Lifschitz, artistic director of Queensland’s Circa, the chorus is an almost continual presence on the stage, variously representing humanity and changing landscapes as the poem move through space and time.

The final element of this incredible performance is the music. Set high above the stage where you imagine the gods would sit, a row of musicians and singers give life to an absolutely exquisite aural landscape, composed by multi-awarding composer Jocelyn Pook.

These three key elements – Pook’s score, the huge human chorus and Oswald’s powerful imagery given voice by Morse – combine to create an insightful and intense requiem to all those whose lives have been affected by the immeasurable tragedy and senselessness of war.

Timed to mark the centenary of Armistice Day, this deeply moving and profound production is an important and world-class event that should not be missed.

Memorial is being presented at the Dunstan Playhouse until March 6. Read more InDaily Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.

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