Sweeping and Confident Production of Shakespeare’s Rarely Performed Tragedy
by Fiona Mountford
(Photo by Helen Maybanks.)
What a glorious play this is and so bewilderingly rarely performed. It’s in my top three Shakespeares (Twelfth Night and Hamlet, since you’re asking) and this sweeping and confident production from RSC boss Gregory Doran illustrates why.
The drama’s all-pervasive tone of bitterness and cynicism chimes perfectly with today’s infected political climate, as Shakespeare sets about his conclusive debunking of a Homeric golden age.
To fully appreciate T and C’s ins and outs, a level of familiarity is required with the league table of heroes of the classical world. Shakespeare’s brutally effective point here is that they’re not very heroic, but mired in the all-round stasis and stalemate, and full of the puffed-up posturing of a pointless war that has now been dragging on for seven long years. This is no sort of backdrop against which to blaze an epic love story and Troilus (Gavin Fowler) and Cressida (Amber James) often struggle to rise above the level of bit players in their own narrative.
There’s a lot to listen to and look at. Composer Evelyn Glennie offers a shimmering wall of percussive noise; it’s an impressive din and if these armies don’t leave Troy soon they will suffer from lifelong tinnitus. Designer Niki Turner clads the cast in a magnificent array of retro-futuristic Max Max-style costumes, all studs and shoulder pads and leather. No wonder vainglorious Achilles (Andy Apollo) pads around his trailer like a movie star.
James notably captures Cressida’s lovestruck pragmatism and movingly shows her to be a victim of the machinations of war, of men. There’s fine work too from Oliver Ford Davies as Pandarus, who takes a prurient interest in the young lovers he brings together.
This production boasts a 50:50 gender-balanced cast, an RSC first, but I mean it only as a compliment when I say that this is perhaps the least interesting thing about it.