Review: The Briefs boys with their feathers, thongs and stilettos are back, London Wonderground
Second thoughts: Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet, Barbican Theatre

My 10 favourite things about the #Iliadlive reading at the British Museum and Almeida

Iliad cast & creative
Iliad cast & creative - click for bigger image

On Friday #IliadLive was trending on Twitter, a remarkable feat considering it was essentially a 16-hour live reading of an Ancient Greek epic poem - not the sort of thing you normally expect social media to get excited about. Even more remarkable that among the cast of more than 60, while sparkling with theatre stars - the sort of actors that get us theatre nerds very excited - only a handful have the broader TV screen fame of the sort that usually gets Twitter excited.

The readathon started at 9am at the British Museum and was live streamed for those that couldn't make it. Benches had been set up on a first come, first served basis and were full most of the time. There were people sat on the floor nearby, some had come prepared with picnics and always a throng of people at the back - some bemused foreign tourists.

As the museum was closing those among the audience lucky enough to snap up tickets for the remainder of the story at the Almeida were ushered onto a Routemaster bus or into cycle rickshaws where the reading continued during the journey.

I reckon I caught eight or nine hours, a combination of live streaming and watching it live at the British Museum and at the Almeida. Some far sturdier than me did the whole thing braving night buses to get home after the final lines were read, shortly before 1am. (I salute you @RhianBWatts).

Anyway here are 10 of my favourite things from Iliad Live, what are yours?

1. Simon Russell Beale set the bar high with the very first reading cementing why he is a national treasure when it comes to live performance (and possibly the only stage actor who'd get up to perform at 9am).

2. At the British Museum, there was no waiting in the privacy of the wings to come on, the actors are stood to one side script in hand for all to see and study which is fairly unusual. Sometimes you could see the nerves in their body language. John Simm borrowed a pen from an AD to make last minute notes on his script and Oliver Chris just leaned casually chatting and smiling like it was a walk in the park.

Rory Kinnear Iliad Live
Rory Kinnear Iliad Live

3. Waiting to see who would be next was very much part of the excitement. At the BM, keeping an eye out for who was being ushered to the waiting area or at the Almeida seeing who appeared from one side of the stage as the finished storyteller departed from the other.

4. The @Iliadlive Twitter feed was very much part of the entertainment with its slightly tongue in cheek approach to the story. We were treated to regulars such as: 'Anger Update: Achilles still angry', Spear Cam (any action involving a spear), Death Updates,  Diet Updates (what they were eating), God Facts and more. Whoever was tweeting that account deserves their own round of applause.

Luke Thompson Iliad Live
Luke Thompson Iliad Live

5. Loved the differences in styles. Some actors got quite animated, while for others it was all in the voice. Some barely lifted their eyes from the script (Ben Whishaw) while others seemed to have almost memorised theirs, glancing down every now and again (Rory Kinnear). It was also strangely fascinating to see whether they turned their pages from left to right or right to left - when you are watching something this long, these things start to matter.

6. Playing games with the cast list such as how many Hamlets were taking part (five, just in case you were wondering: SRB, John Simm, Rory, Kinnear, Jonathan Slinger and BW).

7. That it was just as much of a thing for the actors as the audience, spotting who was in the audience before, or afterwards or just hanging out with the rest of us enjoying the reading. Michael Brandon of Dempsey and Makepeace fame was having pictures taken with some of the actors doing readings. Tobias Menzies was spotted quite early at the British Museum leading to a discussion as to whether he'd mistaken 10am for 10pm for his reading. And Ben

John Simm Iliad Live
John Simm Iliad Live

Whishaw was glued to live stream screen in the foyer of the Almeida during Lia Williams' reading.

8. Bertie Carvel performing barefoot at the Almeida and pretty much being my favourite of all those I saw on the day - no warming into it, he hit the ground running (see #9).

9. Watching actors warm into their performance, confidence growing sentence by sentence.

10. Finally, Ben Whishaw's giggle when he pronounced a name wrong, momentarily dropping out of character saying 'sorry' in a way that made you realise just how much performance he was putting into his reading then slipping straight back into it. He also had pencil in his hand, so perhaps he'd been making last minute notes too.

The Almeida website is promising podcasts and behind the scenes videos so keep an eye out on the website. Right now I think we need a good cast list game to keep things going, any suggestions?

 

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