The Iliad Out Loud & Abridged. By William Zappa after Homer. Directed by Zappa. April 28 and 29 at 7pm. April 30 at 4pm. The Street Theatre. Tickets: $35-$40. Packages: two session $60-$70; three sessions $75-$90. Bookings: 6247 1223 or www.thestreet.org.au.
William Zappa is nothing if not ambitious. The veteran actor of stage and screen will next be seen in Canberra performing his own adaptation of Homer's epic poem The Iliad at The Street Theatre. It will be presented in three parts over three nights live and in chronological order by Zappa and Canberra performers Nick Byrne and Chrissie Shaw – "both great storytellers", Zappa says.
They will be accompanied by Groove Warehouse director and percussionist Gary France.
The performance will take a total of nine hours over three days with comfort and refreshment breaks. People can book for part of it, sampling the story, or settle in for the whole epic tale.
The Iliad is set during the final weeks of the 10-year siege of the city of Troy by the Greeks. Only the great warrior Achilles can tip the balance in favour of the Greeks, but having been humiliated by his leader Agamemnon, he is stubbornly refusing to join the battle.
Zappa says: "The story is I got a commission from ABC Radio Drama to explore the possibility of adapting the first four books for radio – there are 24 books instead of chapters ... the first four books of Robert Fagles' translation."
The commission disappeared when ABC Radio Drama ceased to exist three years ago, but Zappa's enthusiasm for the idea remained – in fact, he decided to go further and prepare his own performing version of the whole work, albeit in an abridged version.
As he didn't understand ancient Greek he decided to buy 15 different translations of the work to use as reference points
"What I've done is 18 of the 24 books; I'm in the process of doing two more," he says. Everything essential to the story will be included and he hopes to have the whole thing completed by October.
"All that will be left out is repetition, more battles that go on and on," he says. And not being a classics scholar he has sought expert help.
"The person I'm most grateful to is Professor Elizabeth Minchin at ANU who reads everything I write and comments on it."
Zappa says his adaptation "focuses on bringing a poetic rhythm and an Australian voice to this great story, honouring the classic and at the same time making it accessible to modern audiences".
He wants the audience to experience the breadth and scope of the story and the way Homer can move between intimate scenes involving individuals – such as a poignant meeting between the Trojan prince Hector and his wife Andromache, carrying their young son Astyanax – and raging battles that are going on at the same time.
He likens Homer to an ancient Greek version of film and television – able through text to present a perspective in wide shot then close in for a close-up or cut between scenes.
"It's like the language of film."
And he says one of the things he loves about the ancient Greeks' way of thinking was that stories like The Iliad with their gods exhibiting all too human relationships and frailties – jealousy, infidelity, pettiness, favouritism – were humanity's way of explaining themselves to themselves.