Enter Achilles, A Man's Man
REVIEW ... Arnolfini, Bristol
by Ismene Brown
The Daily Telegraph | Monday Sep 23 1995
One can imagine a few local difficulties when Lloyd Newson was booking up country theatres for his newest DV8 venture. Set: a foldaway pub and a 20ft high platform. Props: several dozen pints of beer and four inflatable sex dolls. Content: explicit. Company reputation: say the name again.
DV8 always sets a challenge, but whichever capacious Bristol theatre it was that turned them away and forced them to telescope Enter Achilles into the unsuitably cosy Arnolfini Centre, should be feeling very small. They spurned a rare, rich, devastating, triumphant work of art.
"Enter Achilles", states the title — "behold the man's man", in that place where manliness is most impregnable, the pub. We are promised confrontation, the hog beneath the skin, and some of it is overwhelmingly awful to watch.
But Newson's previous work, Strange Fish and MSM among others, has shown his rare gift for simultaneously navigating the most dangerous emotional currents, and finding movement that is both innovative and truthfully illuminating. There is nothing gratuitous here, except where necessary — and it is not some anti-hetero male tract but a tragic piece of theatre, with pity and laughter as important as the terror.
There are eight men in suits, like any others, at the bar. Pop songs tumble out of the juke-box, the TV shows football, and they lark, joke crudely, often display their unanimity in comic or menacingly stylised crowd behaviour. Private differences emerge: one sleeps with an inflatable sex doll but loves it more tenderly than some men love real women; a runt dresses up as Superman; a tall, lugubrious one aches for a man.
The men eddy between casual mateyness and aggression, and all of it is presented with whirling, spinning, switching, sensual stylising of classic male body language into a hypnotic kind of dance.
Visual marvels tumble over each other without let-up: a privately erotic pas de deux, an acrobatic, dreamy episode for two high up a rope, some fluidly lyrical juggling with full beer glasses, and an ending of apocalyptic horror that leaves one's nerves in shards along with the smashed glass on the floor.
I can't judge whether Enter Achilles suffered from its truncation for the Arnolfini, but dramatic coherence, human integrity, irresistable visual power, were all there in the most outstanding work I have seen all year.