Clarence Street Theatre, Hamilton

19/02/2020 - 19/02/2020

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

07/04/2018 - 21/04/2018

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2020

Production Details

The guy at the bar has quite a story to tell.

Homer’s epic masterpiece, The Iliad, is condensed into an intimate, incisive, urgent evening of theatre.

A sole performer is joined on stage by a musician to tell the tale of the great Trojan War and Achilles’ victory over brave Hector. This sweeping and powerful story collides with our world and delivers startlingly modern results.

Has anything really changed?

Musical virtuosity combines with exceptional storytelling to create a theatrical experience like no other.

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin
7th – 21st April 2018
Tuesday – 6pm
Wednesday-Saturday – 7.30pm
Sunday – 4pm 


Produced by Amy Mansfield
Lighting design by Rachel Marlow 
Presented by Artsense Productions (Michael Hurst & Shayne Carter)

Master storyteller and rock maestro take you to epic heights.

This is a story you may think you know; a grand classic born on the backs of gods and warriors. But this wouldn’t be a New Zealand performance without a little twist.

New Zealand’s own master storyteller, Michael Hurst, gives a towering performance in a passionate and exciting reimagining of Homer’s influential work, written by the genius coupling of Lisa Peterson and Tony award-winning Denis O’Hare. Our poet is joined on stage by rock luminary Shayne P Carter (Straitjacket Fits, Dimmer), performing an emotive real-time soundscape live on stage. Riffing off each other, the two create an enthralling modern take on one of the greatest stories ever told.

An Iliad was first a box-office hit in the US. This production won three major awards for sound design, performance, and production of the year at the 2018 Dunedin Theatre Awards. Auckland, Taranaki and Hawkes Bay critics and audiences raved and raved. Finally, this award-winning classic is coming to Hamilton for just one performance.

Experience the passion and darkness of this spine-tingling tale depicted by two great kiwi legends. Described as part play and part gig, you’ll leave with a new respect for the legend and the feeling that you’ve just had a damn good night at the pub.



Clarence St Theatre
Wed 19 Feb, 7.30pm
$45 General Admission
$42 Concession

The Poet - Michael Hurst
The Muse - Shayne P Carter

Director - Jonathon Hendry
Producer - Amy Mansfield
Lighting Designer/Operator - Rachel Marlow

Presented by Artsense Productions

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr 40 min

Searingly, unforgettably relevant

Review by Mark Houlahan 20th Feb 2020

As we leave the Clarence Street Theatre, I poll my companions on their verdict. They are keen theatre goers, and quick to see the good and the not-so-great. “Just tell them go see it.” Well, what they said. An Iliad is only in town for one night in the newly expansive Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival, and is now travelling south. Just go see it.

Hurst is phenomenal in what I would say is a career best performance, and that counts his electrifying mc in Cabaret, and the terrifying Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi for the Auckland Theatre Company. Hamilton audiences are so reluctant to stand for a performer, but here the ovation is genuine and spontaneous. We head in to the droughty, rainless night, exhilarated.

Hurst toured a few years ago with a very successful Shakespeare show, A Bard Day’s Night which was super fun to watch and drew on Hurst’s skills at fighting as well as with Shakespeare. This new show is in a different league altogether: sombre and thought provoking.

The show is deliberately called “An” Iliad. It’s not a definitive version of Homer’s famous poem but a highly specific take (Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare), designed for 2020. The best guess is that the events in the poem originally occurred around 1200 BC. Homer himself (if he was only one person) seems to have sung the epic first in 700 BC. So the story is older than the Bible; it was being chanted 700 years before Tane Mahuta first sprouted in Northland.

Since the time of Homer, his epic has never been forgotten. It’s been performed, recited, depicted in visual art, the source of operas and so many plays and films. The story lives because, as the audience response shows, it covers so many themes that still get to us: male rage and pride, thwarted love, savage violence. But the story ends in gentle, heartbreaking grief.

Reciting the whole of The Iliad would take the best part of a day. Here Hurst gives a version that runs with no break for about an hour and three quarters. He carefully goes through the beginning of the poem, ten years into the conflict between Greece and Troy, and no end is in sight. The Greeks long to go home, but insist on victory. Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, sulks in his tent and sends his boyfriend Patroclus to fight in his place. Four days later the plain in front of Troy is strewn with thousands of corpses. In a film, like the version with Brad Pitt as Achilles (Troy), you can show all this with models and cgi.

But this is live theatre so instead we see a gloomy, empty space. The stage is stripped bare and stark, shorn of the pretty musical theatre sets often seen in this venue. No floating boats, no flashing chandeliers. House lights still up, Hurst comes on stage with a large suitcase. He’s in pants and open collared shirt, a gaberdine coat that has seen better days. In role as the poet he seems to know everything that happened at Troy: so was he there himself? He seems to be of Homer’s time and ours as well. The poet knows all about our own endless wars, little and big.

He weaves the threads of the story, both telling it and stepping outside it to comment. He plays all the parts, quickly becoming Achilles, Hecuba, Priam, a winged messenger. He shifts gender with a quick swivel of the hip and change of voice. The stage is filled with these necessary characters. Hurst can shift tone so rapidly, and he does so to lighten the mood or bring us in close as he does in the final devastating sequence.

Of course we know what is going to happen even if we can’t quite recall all the names or actually recite in ancient Greek (Hurst reels off the opening of the poem with panache). But it happens anyway: it’s the epitome of tragedy in art to make us thrilled (thorough the verve of the performance) and dismayed at the same time.

Like Homer, Hurst needs a muse, here Shayne P Carter, indie rock god, high priest of gloom. He comes on stage right and, in the dimmish light, can be seen playing guitar (as his many fans in the audience hope) and electronic keyboard. It’s not greatest hits time though. Rather he weaves sounds together, sombre chords that wash around the playing space, reacting to and shaping the verbal tale Hurst’s poet is giving us. Carter has no words, but he does not need them. Guitar and keyboard do the job magnificently. The consort between Hurst and Carter, each consummate in their own art forms, is thrilling to absorb.

Towards the end, the poet sinks into a chair, cast down by the stark tale he is retelling. He makes a new list out loud (like the lists of ships and gods etc for which Homer is famous): Darfur, Syria, Aleppo, Dresden – scenes of modern destruction. Hurst just rolls through the names with no embellishment. The nouns are all he needs to make the point.

Homer lives because nobody has written war better than his poem. Carter and Hurst bring that world back to life, and make it searingly, unforgettably relevant.

We spend so many nights in theatres, amused, irritated, bored. Then you see An Iliad on a hot, uncomfortable night. It shakes you to the core and will not let you go.


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Anti-war play memorable

Review by Barbara Frame 10th Apr 2018

The set has a derelict look, like a place where something used to happen but no longer does: a workshop, perhaps, or a studio.  

The Poet shambles in. He has a story to tell, possibly the only story he knows, and he’s been telling it for centuries. He loves it passionately but it also exhausts and terrifies him. After a creaking, hesitant start, the story begins.

It comes, of course, from Homer … This stage adaptation is overtly anti-war [More]


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Flawlessly enacted by a master storyteller

Review by Terry MacTavish 08th Apr 2018

The epic poem on the Trojan War by Homer, ancient Greek father of European literature, ends not with battle or victory, but with the splendid funeral feast for Hector. At the conclusion of the Fortune’s show I feel I too have shared in a royal feast.  An Iliad is sublime theatre the like of which we rarely see, centred round a towering performance by Michael Hurst that may well itself pass into legend. Experience it, feast your fill. (And if you do not enjoy the privilege of living in Dunedin, pray to all the gods this production will tour!)

Director Jonathon Hendry has drawn a virtuoso performance from this celebrated actor, eclipsing for me Hurst’s acclaimed Shakespearean solo work, No Holds Bard.  There is impressive support from the Fortune team, with set design by Shannon van Rooijen (who worked with Peter King on 2017’s great Twelfth Night), costume by Maryanne Wright-Smyth, sound by Lindsay Gordon, technical operation by Anna van den Bosch, and stage management by Mark Neilson. Especially exciting is the lighting design by Stephen Kilroy, that actually references the World War Two film studio of propagandist Goebbels.

Hurst’s entry on stage as the wandering Poet is the reverse of heroic. Wearing a shabby grey overcoat and hat, discarded to reveal a holey jersey, he ambles into a set that is a bare studio, backed by scaffolding and a dirty, tattered curtain, with spotlights that seem left-overs from the 1950s standing around like random spear-carriers.

The Poet, akin to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, is cursed to tell the story of the Trojan War through all the centuries, hoping that each recital might be the one that brings us to our senses. His look of resigned disgust as he clocks the audience waiting expectantly is exquisitely funny, but as if he cannot help himself, he is quickly caught up in a vivid re-enactment. 

Hurst utilises all his remarkable skills of voice and movement to tell the legend of the massing of Agamemnon’s Greek army to sail to Troy in Asia Minor, to retrieve beautiful Helen who has been carried off by Paris, and of the power struggle between King Agamemnon and Greek hero Achilles, leading to the final conflict between Achilles and Hector, Prince of Troy.  Hurst, an expert in stage combat, is naturally in his element in the dramatic battle scenes, easily playing several fighters at once.

Ancient Greece relied on oral tradition, and bards and praise-singers knew vast screeds of poetry by heart. It is tempting to imagine Hurst as the natural descendant of such spell-binding storytellers, and An Iliad requires of course a prodigious feat of memory, but beyond that, the level of intensity he maintains is astounding. He holds the audience enthralled through every twist of the plot and every new depiction of character. The high flights of passion are balanced by the disarming naturalism of the humorous asides to us, the anacoluthons and abrupt questions that put us on the spot.

The Poet’s desperate repeated invocation to the Muses: “Do I really have to do this all myself?” is finally answered with super-cool nonchalance by renowned musician Shayne P Carter, who saunters on and, without greeting him or us, embarks casually on a dynamic, seemingly improvised accompaniment with electric guitar.

My guest, a musician herself, is deeply impressed and later tries to explain to me how the synthesisers work.  All I am aware of is the sensitive background to lyrical passages, the mounting tension in moments of crisis which explodes into a cacophony of sound only an actor of Hurst’s calibre could top, and the satisfaction of watching two performers play off each other so sympathetically.

Homer’s Iliad is a powerful war poem that, like Beowulf, celebrates the brotherhood of warriors and glories in violence, its monumental influence felt in everything since, from the hubris of Shakespeare’s doomed heroes blindly believing themselves invincible, to the relentless carnage of Game of Thrones. Women are constantly referred to as prizes. Hurst’s frenzied depiction of blood lust shudderingly recalls Brecht’s description of the soldier who gets a hard-on when he charges, ejaculates when he kills.

But playwright Lisa Petersen, who has won awards for her direction of Caryl Churchill plays, has employed the Brechtian devices Churchill favours to confront and challenge us.  Over and again the Poet breaks off to address us directly, to refer to the places where the young fighters originate, using names of towns like Balclutha, to elegise over the deaths in the trenches of World War One soldiers, and eventually, to give an appalling, seemingly endless list of all the wars there have ever been, rebellions, uprisings, invasions, crusades. The hideous roll call, ending with Syria, damns all humanity.

The dactylic hexameter employed in Greek poetry and drama, called by Tennyson “the stateliest measure ever moulded by the lips of man”, cannot easily be translated in English, but Petersen has hit on a mix of the stately for Homer’s verse, contrasted with colloquial commentary that allows for reflection on the insanity of war. The passages that are pure Iliad are delivered with great dignity and magnificent projection by Hurst, and his rendering of passages actually in Greek is incredibly beautiful and moving.

Then there is the comedy, from the cynical asides of the jaundiced Poet to the multitude of characters that flesh out the legend, each swiftly and brilliantly portrayed by Hurst. The scene in which Hector farewells his wife and baby son, who is alarmed by his helmet, is just too cute, and we rock with laughter at the witty depiction of Hermes, campest and most frivolous of the gods, in a crucial bit-part.

And finally we are touched by Homer’s surprising tenderness, the moment when triumphant Achilles, who could have been interpreted as merely a thug, is moved by the pleas of Hector’s father, broken-hearted old King Priam, to think of his own far-off father, and return the Trojan hero’s body for the rites of honourable burial.

An epic feast fit for kings indeed. If Edinburgh is the professed Athens of the North, and Dunedin the Edinburgh of the South, then surely we have a claim to the Iliad, and can hardly call ourselves citizens of one of the world’s Cities of Literature without seizing this glorious opportunity to witness Homer’s masterpiece, flawlessly enacted by a master storyteller. Euoi!


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