BWW Review: TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
by Louis Train
Troilus and Cressida begins with a thunder of drums that knocks the programme out of your hands. The Trojan War, nearly at its end, has claimed thousands of lives; generals strategise, heroes exercise, and in the midst of it all, the Trojan prince Troilus (Gavin Fowler) has fallen for the beautiful Cressida (Amber James). He plans to woo her with sweet words which, he hopes, won’t be drowned out by the clashes and trumpets of combat. He thinks that love can survive the Trojan War. He is wrong. Troilus and Cressida is not a love story so much as a war story, and a particularly ugly one at that. There are no heroes, no incorruptible men or pure women. Achilles is a proud fool, Ajax a beast of pure rage. The world itself has nearly been destroyed; it is rusted, twisted, shattered, and beautiful. Niki Turner’s set, like the chiseled bodies of the heroes who stomp around it, is impressive and frightening, a beauty born of necessity. The sounds of this world are cacophonous, wooden drums and metal things and new instruments purpose-made for the show by percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who, one hopes, keeps her devices under lock and key at night lest they go out on their own and cause havoc.
Who could survive in such a world? Only the strongest fighters, the cleverest generals, the most beautiful lovers. Under the direction of Gregory Doran, the actors perform viscerally, desperately; they act from the blood and breast, never forgetting what’s at stake. So cunning and persuasive is Adjoa Andoh as Ulysses, I would gladly follow her to battle. James Cooney as Patroclus, the lover of Achilles, is charming and touchingly real; his relationship is the play’s true romance, his death, the true tragedy. Oliver Ford Davies as the lord Pandarus is everything – funny, at times; poignant, at times; devastating, at times.
Shakespeare is, in the mind of many, a quiet sort, a sonnet written with quill and ink, a soliloquy, a balcony. Let Troilus and Cressida be the counterexample – let it be Shakespeare’s bicep. And let Gregory Doran and the artists of the Royal Shakespeare Company be the ones to flex it.
Troilus and Cressida at Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 17 November