William Zappa’s career has crossed continents and spanned four decades of elite performances in film, television and theatre. On screen he is immortalised as Zetta in Mad Max2: The Road Warrior. His television appearances include Women of the Sun for which he received the Penguin Award for Best Actor and more recently in Rake. He has worked with all the major theatre companies including Melbourne Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company, winning the MO Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Thenardier in Les Miserables.
William Zappa talks to The Street ahead of the The Iliad Out Loud season.
TALK US THROUGH WHY THE ILIAD, AN ANCIENT EPIC POEM, WOULD BE OF INTEREST TO AUDIENCES NOW?
It is great story! It was the beginning of all great stories of the western tradition. It is where theatre began (after telling stories around the campfire). For me it is a voice calling from the past that asks us to open our eyes to ourselves, especially men, to understand how our egos and greed can destroy us.
Homer (or whom ever the poet was) was ancient Greece’s version of our films or T.V. He was The Avengers or CSI or Game Of Thrones. He brings characters to vibrant life, gives us panoramic views of the landscape, forensic views of people being killed, incredible acts of ‘magic’, passionate speeches, beautiful intimacy and a bunch of gods who are in every way as bad as the humans.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROCESS IN ADAPTING THE ILIAD AND GIVING IT AN AUSTRALIAN VOICE?
This is an adaptation using 15 different English translations of The Iliad from Alexander Pope – 1720 to Caroline Alexander 2015. My desire has been to write in a way that allows for an easy read if spoken out loud. I have used a basic six beat rhythm, partly in honour of the six beats that the ‘Epic Poets’ used and partly as a way of increasing the variety within the six beats so as not to be predictable over such a long piece, and with a rhythm that drives the story forward. Because this is not a ‘translation’ as such, I have not been restricted by a need to be word for word precise, but to create as closely as possible the ‘essence’ and ‘feel’ of the story in a way which engages with a modern audience. I have tried to use a language that is completely recognisable as the ‘way we speak’, while hopefully respecting the fact that this is a ‘classic’ poem.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WORK AS A WRITER-DIRECTOR-ACTOR ON THIS PROJECT?
Being writer, actor and director is going to be a challenge.
WITH THE ILIAD WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?
The most important part of the relationship between the actors and director is respect and clarity of communication.
HOW WILL YOU WORK WITH PERCUSSIONIST GARY FRANCE OF GROOVE WAREHOUSE ON THE ILIAD?
I’m very excited to be working with Gary. I have said he is free to explore his responses to the spoken word, and we will take it from there.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR FROM AN AUDIENCE?
I have no expectation from an audience (except respecting the need to turn mobile phones off and to not unwrap lollies) because their response to the work is a reflection of our ability to engage.
HAS YOUR GREEK HERITAGE INFORMED YOUR WORK AND PRACTICE?
I think my Greek heritage has found its home. I believe there is something deeply profound about the way thinking developed in Ancient Greece and that the breadth and depth of that kind of thinking is essential today.
YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW WE CONTINUE TO ADDRESS DIVERSITY ON OUR AUSTRALIAN STAGES AND AMONGST OUR AUDIENCES?
I think the only way we can continue to address diversity on stage is simply to do it, explore.
YOU HAVE PERFORMED ALL OVER AUSTRALIA AND OVERSEAS MANY TIMES? DESCRIBE HOW AUDIENCES DIFFER OR ARE SIMILAR ACROSS THE COUNTRY?
I think Australian audiences are generally reticent about giving a standing ovation to Australian productions. I have seen many that would have people on their feet overseas.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
Ditto (oh, and crime on tv)