Imagine Philoctetes... the bandaged smelling foot... a man who roared on an island for ten years... Imagine in his hands - black from the dried blood of animals, a bow of torn silver that noised arrows loose like a wild heart...
Written in 409 BCE by one of the great playwrights of the ancient Greek stage, Sophocles' Philoctetes tells of a man, crippled by an agonising, never-healing wound from a snakebite inflicted by the gods, who is deserted on an island by his comrades. The play begins as, ten years later, they return for the sole precious possession that has sustained him for all this time: the silver bow of Heracles, the weapon that, it has been prophesied, will bring victory to the Greeks in their long-standing stalemate in the war against Troy.
Peter Falkenberg's conception of Sophocles' tragedy re-imagines Philoctetes' suffering as prefiguring the suffering of Christ, with the chorus using lyrics of Leonard Cohen that contemplate the impossibility of love against the ethics of wealth, power and war. Richard Till's set creates an island where humans as well as gods are trapped in isolation, each imagining the events that have sent them inexorably to a conflict that can only be won at the sacrifice of love, friendship and humanity.
The decision of Neoptolemos, sent to recover the bow from the wounded Philoctetes, is between honest violence and corrupt words, honour and subterfuge, and the warmth of human contact against the cold, isolating demands of the state. The tragedy of Philoctetes is not his suffering or his death, but that he too must join in the bloodshed at Troy.