TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 8th November, 2018
Gregory Doran sets his production of Shakespeare’s Trojan War story in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-type world – although we have to wait a considerable while for the action and excitement associated with the genre when we finally get to climactic scenes of armed combat.
Here, leather-and-denim-clad women are as likely to be butch warriors as the men, and so we get Suzanne Bertish’s shock-haired Agamemnon, Amanda Harris’s fiery Aeneas, and the mighty Adjoa Andoh’s wily Ulysses. There is a humorous tone to the piece that Doran tends to emphasise, as Shakespeare satirises the supposedly heroic figures, but the production’s Achilles heel, if you will, is its lack of emotional attachment. It looks great and sounds great but it does not grip or move.
Gavin Fowler makes an appealing Troilus, comical in his awkwardness and initially more of a lover than a fighter. Amber James is fantastic as a stately Cressida, using a cool wit as a shield. When she blurts out her love for Troilus, she immediately backpedals, unwilling to allow herself to experience or display her true emotions. Even though the play is named for them, they are merely two characters among a host of many, and their story feels undeveloped. As the go-between who, um, goes between them, Oliver Ford Davies is tremendously enjoyable as the doddering, overly attentive Pandarus.
Andy Apollo (yes, really) is an Adonis of an Achilles, striding and posing about the place with James Cooney’s sweet and boyish Patroclus at his side. This pair of lovers is perhaps more tragic than the titular couple; when Patroclus is struck down, it provides a rare moment of empathy from us.
Andrew Langtree’s Menelaus would not be out of place in an Asterix book, while Sheila Reid’s grubby Thersites is like a dystopian Wee Jimmy Krankie (if that’s not a tautology). Theo Ogundipe is a delight as thick-headed Ajax.
Original music by virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie evokes the clatter and clang of battles we don’t get to see. There are many things to admire and enjoy but as a whole, these things don’t amount to a hill of beans. Shakespeare’s genre-defying play is notoriously difficult to pin down. Doran’s funny, orotund and noisy production lacks depth. It’s Troy without weight. By the end of this loud but empty spectacle, I yearn for Tina Turner to come on and belt out We Don’t Need Another Hero. It would be apt at least.
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