Troilus and Cressida @ Globe Theatre, London

cast list
Jamie Ballard, Ben Bishop, Olivia Chaney, Christopher Colquhoun, Matthew Flynn, Trystan Gravelle, Richard Hansell, Paul Hunter, Fraser James, Matthew Kelly, Seamus O’Neill, Laura Pyper, Stevie Raine, Ania Sowinski, John Stahl, Paul Stocker, Jay Taylor, Beru Tessema, Chinna Wodu

directed by
Matthew Dunster
Productions of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida are very much in vogue, and the modern Globe’s first full scale production follows hot on the heels of one by the highly acclaimed Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican last year.

And though critics were divided as to how effectively that 2008 production made its points, it proved one thing beyond doubt: that with such a problematic play as this, it pays to take a stance.

With the play’s backdrop being the Greeks’ inconclusive siege of Troy, Cheek by Jowl’s approach was to highlight the sheer futility of the conflict, turning on its head any notion that individual characters behaved nobly.

So the Trojan Hector became a chivalric fool whose actions prolonged the bloodshed, whilst Ulysses’s supposed Greek wisdom was shown to conceal a closeted sexuality.
Humour was in evidence, but the purpose of, for example, presenting the final battle as a ball game was to terrify and illuminate, rather than to make us laugh out loud.

In direct contrast, this production lacks a central message, and instead attaches commentaries to individual aspects that are not always successful, and hardly tie in neatly with each other. This is partly because too many elements are played up for straight laughs, revealing nothing deeper behind the comic faade.

In Act One, for example, we may chuckle at the way the Greeks are shown to argue amongst themselves, but we are not hit by the total futility and sickness of their infighting. Similarly, the insertion of a short scene depicting every day Greek life may reveal the civilisation’s efficient ruthlessness by showing the severance of a petty criminal’s hand, but it is all overshadowed by the cringe worthy humour inherent in seeing this tossed in the air.

Initially, it seems a good idea to present Chinna Wodu’s Ajax, the second greatest Greek warrior, as the archetypal brute soldier, seemingly reminiscent of the A Team’s B. A. Baracus, whilst reserving for Trystan Gravelle’s Achilles a more subtle hippy persona. As the drama unfolds, however, it becomes unbelievable that Achilles, donning a loose robe and make-up, was ever a great warrior who has only recently ‘let himself go’. Similarly, the presentation of Paris’s selfish and hypocritical character is marred by having him appear so close to the front line during the battles, whilst Ania Sowinski’s Helen feels more slut than seductress.

Nevertheless, Matthew Kelly, fresh from his triumphant turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a captivating Pandarus, primarily because in his strutting, swaggering and finger wagging, his comic gestures are strong enough to reveal the character’s hidden depths. Christopher Colquhoun and Jamie Ballard are highly convincing as Hector and Ulysses respectively, whilst Paul Hunter is an engaging Thersites, addressing the audience whilst sporting a wooden leg.

The second half improves enormously as the situation becomes more precarious, and when Hector refuses to fight Ajax it really feels like the troubles may be over, which only serves to make the subsequent bloodshed all the more shocking. Then, after slightly immature performances in the first half, Paul Stocker as Troilus and Laura Pyper as Cressida excel, especially in illustrating how Cressida succumbs to Demitrius after she is separated from Troilus and handed over to the Greeks. In the perennial debate over whether Cressida is simply loose and disloyal, or conversely taking the only course open to one cut off from everything they ever knew, this production convincingly argues for the latter.

Nevertheless, if the ignoble slaughter of Hector is moving, the ending (where just as many die as in Hamlet) is marred by seeing the entire cast ‘boogie on down’ to a drumbeat. It is sad that the Globe seems bent on ending every production with a dance, no matter how out of keeping with the preceding drama, and it only helps this Troilus and Cressida to stand as an illustration of just how much is lost when such a deeply bloody play fails to be imbued with sufficient gravity.

No related posts found...