Review also includes:
Teachers’ Guide, Grant Bage, Jennie Dunn and Bob Lister, 120pp, 978-0954279486
In every aspect, this project is characterised by excitement, excellence and meticulous care; the quality is stunning. Daniel Morden and Hugh Lupton are two of the UK’s finest oral storytellers. I saw their live performance of ‘War with Troy’ some three years ago and it still reverberates in the memory.
The great story was probably composed orally over several centuries through many tellings; now, in spirit, it is reclaimed for that tradition. The tale is told in 12 episodes, varying from 13 to 18 minutes, reflecting the episodic nature of the original. Morden and Lupton did not initially write down their text, but developed it through several tellings. Then they told the story to children of 9-11 in schools (the age group for whom the Ancient Greeks appear in the National Curriculum) and listened to them and their teachers about anything which wasn’t working. This is not a straightforward adaptation of The Iliad, for the storytellers also drew on The Odyssey, Virgil and Ovid; and made one small but significant addition of their own. They begin with the union of Peleus and Thetis, the birth of Achilles and the fateful decision by Paris to award the golden apple to Aphrodite. Their version concludes with Achilles’ death and Odysseus’s strategy of the Wooden Horse. So, the unifying spine is the story of Achilles. The clarity and measured rhythms of the narrative are a delight. There are echoes of Homer’s repeated epithets (owl-eyed Athene, red-haired Menelaus) and Homeric similes (‘Like a hawk swooping from the sky on starlings, Patroclus drove them out of the camp.’). Even the unflinching account of the slaughter of Hector is devised with precise skill and no loss of power for young listeners. Not even the usual free-range boys will move. No gimmicks – just a resonant gong, a couple of notes on a brass instrument, and the two voices. Above all, the transfixing power of the story.
A final section of the third CD offers a discussion with Morden and Lupton about storytelling in general and the devising of this piece in particular. It is typical of this carefully thought-through project that the Cambridge School Classics Project has provided a classroom-tested support manual. There are episode-by-episode teaching notes, a full transcript and photocopiable illustrations. In total, the means to bring the Curriculum alive.