Visualising War

Achilles on Stage with Ewan Downie

August 04, 2021 The University of St Andrews Season 1 Episode 20
Visualising War
Achilles on Stage with Ewan Downie
Show Notes

In this episode, Alice and Nicolas interview Ewan Downie, an actor, writer, director and co-founder of the Company of Wolves, a laboratory theatre company whose mission is to make compelling drama ‘that speaks directly to the times in which we live’.  Ewan recently staged a one-man show that explored the story of Achilles, an ancient Greek warrior made famous by Homer's epic poem The Iliad, which tells the story of the Trojan War - a topic we touched on in last week's podcast with NMT Automatics.

In this episode we talk about why the character of Achilles has always fascinated people and what kind of hero he actually is. As Ewan puts it, 'Setting Achilles on an army is a bit like a drone strike, nobody else has a chance - and yet we call this person a hero.' That gets us chatting about what we value in warriors, and what our heroisation of figures like Achilles can tell us about our wider habits of visualising and justifying acts of war. We also discuss the role that myths and archetypes can play in helping us understand our own impulses and behaviours - and how Ewan's representation of Achilles got audiences asking huge questions like 'why do we still kill each other?' In Ewan's words, mythology is a great tool in shaking us up and making us wonder who we are and what we want to be.  

Among other questions, we asked:

  • How influential are ancient war stories on modern habits of visualising war?
  • What aspects of Achilles' story and character did Ewan want to emphasise, and why?
  • How have audiences responded to Ewan's harrowing representation of Achilles' rage and grief?
  • Could his deconstruction of the 'hero' Achilles be seen as 'anti war'?
  • What impact does he think theatre can have on how we see, question and understand conflict across time?


We hope you enjoy the episode!

For a version of our podcast with close captions, please use this link. You can find out more about Ewan's work and find clips of his plays on the Company of Wolves website.

For more information about individuals and their projects, access to resources and more, please have a look on the University of St Andrews Visualising War website.  

Music composed by Jonathan Young
 Sound mixing by Zofia Guertin