If you've ever wondered what it might have been like to hear an itinerant minstrel giving voice to Homer's poetry in a Babylonian market or an Athenian taverna, Michael Hurst and Shayne P Carter bring you as close as you are likely to get to such an experience.

An Iliad opens with a world-wearied poet reluctantly dragging fragments of a forgotten epic from his fading memory but as the muse takes hold we are plunged into the violence and inflamed passions which played out during nine bitter years as vast armies clashed beneath the walls of Troy.

Michael Hurst's performance magnificently evokes the anguish and exhilaration of an old man surrendering himself to the grip of a relentless muse who compels him to endlessly re-live the horrors of his tragic tale.

The muse is embodied in Shayne P Carter's sinuous guitar licks and rumbling synthesisers which conjure up a dazzling array of sounds to chart the ever-shifting emotions of the poetry. White-noise and driving bass-lines carry us into the heat of battle while the gut-wrenching screech of his guitar lets us taste the torment of slaughtered victims.

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Musician Shayne P Carter's guitar licks and rumbling synthesisers create a dazzling sound world in An Iliad.
Musician Shayne P Carter's guitar licks and rumbling synthesisers create a dazzling sound world in An Iliad.

There are also moments of sparkling lyricism and exquisite tenderness as the music draws us into the ethereal realm of the gods or makes us feel the sorrows of a father pleading for the defiled corpse of his fallen son.

The script, by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare, condenses the vast sweep of Homer's poetry and vividly breathes life into the richly drawn characters. But the real genius of the piece comes from the way it challenges the audience to enter into the minds of the heroes as they face life-or-death decisions and complex moral dilemmas.

Contemporary references brilliantly illuminate the story's relevance and a poem which is often regarded a celebration of combat, becomes a harrowing indictment of history's tragic parade of senseless slaughter.

What: An Iliad
Where and when: Herald Theatre, until Sunday June 9
Reviewed by: Paul Simei-Barton