Holding Achilles is a large scale, highly ambitious production, bringing together a multi-talented creative team including Sydney’s highly regarded physical theatre company, Legs on the Wall and Queensland’s Dead Puppet Society, together with contemporary musical legends, Tony Buchen, Chris Bear and Montaigne, and talented lighting designer, Ben Hughes.

The work is the creative vision of Adam Morton, the Creative Director of Dead Puppet Society – who is the Writer, Director, Co-Creator and Co-Designer – and Creative Producer Nicholas Pain. They collaborated with Co-Creator and Movement Director, Joshua Thomson, the Artistic Director of Legs on the Wall.

Despite high expectations from this exciting collaboration, the production felt flat and overly long on the night that I attended. The score, set, lighting and puppetry design were all magnificent, but the production seemed let down by an underdeveloped script.

Instead of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, it felt like a series of missed opportunities, the abundant talents of both companies underutilised.

It was a shame for instance, to not showcase more puppetry. Dead Puppet Society’s impressive adult and baby bear puppets are gorgeously designed. The puppeteers are truly magical in bringing these touching creatures to life, but they appeared only briefly.

In his telling of the story of Trojan War, David Morton turns the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus into a love story. Morton says his intention was to shift the focus from the glorification of battle to the values of loyalty, friendship and love. Morton’s intention makes a lot of sense given scholars contend that queer relationships were commonplace amongst the elite classes in Ancient Greece. However, Morton’s version lacks pace and a compelling dramatic arch.

Wanting to avoid the brutality of battle has shaped Joshua Thomson’s choreography, which is beautiful, but also measured and repetitive. Knowing the range of Legs on the Wall’s physical language, the repertoire in this production seemed limited. Fight scenes were slow, balletic sequences, lacking in dynamism. Thinking back to the breathtaking ingenuity of the company’s early landmark production, All of Me, I wished for some of that raw heat in this work.

Eurovision star, Montaigne’s beautiful vocals are one of the highlights of the production. Dressed in an ocean blue, fan-pleated gown, she plays the spirit of Achilles’ dead mother Thetis. Her songs are meant to act as a sort of Greek Chorus, commenting on the action. Unfortunately, as beautiful as her voice was, and as clearly as she was singing, most of the lyrics were difficult to understand due to problems with the sound system. Audience members I spoke with after the show said they could only understand about 40% of what she sang.

The central cast – Stephen Madsen as Achilles, Karl Richmond as Patroclus, John Batchelor as Odysseus, Nic Prior as Chiron/Paris and Ellen Baily as Ajax/Hector give strong performances and work hard to overcome some clumsy dialogue and awkward scenes.

In fact, there is much to like about the work of many of the performers. I look forward to seeing them all again in more agreeable circumstances.

Event details

Dead Puppet Society and Legs on the Wall
Holding Achilles
Written by David Morton

Director David Morton

Venue: Bay 17 | Carriageworks, 245 Wilson Street Eveleigh NSW
Dates: 19 – 22 January 2023
Tickets: $59 – $53
Bookings: www.sydneyfestival.org.au

Part of the 2023 Sydney Festival

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