‘Feels horribly current’: TROILUS & CRESSIDA – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon ★★★★

In Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – until 17 November 2018

“I had forgotten,” said a companion as we staggered out, deafened by the final outbreak of crazed metallic drumming, “how syphilitic that play is.” Not a bad word for it: or try bitter, angry, violent, messy: more than almost any other Shakespeare play it rages at irredeemable human stupidity and anarchic unreason. Which makes it curiously modern: Jarry or Beckett would nod approval. The director Gregory Doran helpfully gives us in the programme some of the great John Barton’s notes, accepting that it is “comical, tragical, historical, mythical, political, …cynical, romantic, obscene, Homeric, medieval, intellectual, poetic and absurdist”.

Set in an endless, pointless war, the sheer mess of its politics and its refusal to let any character be a hero or an innocent make you leave feeling oddly braced. That, combined with deafeningly dramatic outbreaks of percussive music by Evelyn Glennie on any number of bizarre strikeable instruments, not to mention an appearance by about ten giant trumpets mounted on a bicycle.

Oh, and the fact that it opens with the crashing arrival of Greek and Trojan warriors on roaring motorbikes: you expect Meat Loaf to descend from the ceiling any minute. Though when a cage does descend from a crazy metallic muddle of random discarded armour hanging overhead, it is a cool narrator to inform us that we are seven years into a war between the Greeks and Troy, after the abduction of Helen by the Trojan Paris.

The political action begins with each set of princelings debating what to do – Adjoah Andoh’s elegantly creepy Ulysses laying out the problem at inordinate length on the Greek side, and the Trojans doing their best to ignore the raving, raggedly demented but unfortunately accurate warnings of Cassandra (Charlotte Arrowsmith, truly terrifying, gulping and screaming in prophetic terror).

But before that, we have noted the love affair of the title: Oliver Ford Davies as a benignly obscene Pandarus furthering his niece’s relationship with Troilus, which is going to help spark the final disaster. Gavin Fowler and Amber James are touching in their all too brief conjunction, but so is Pandarus in his way: his shock at realising that Cressida is a prisoner-exchange to the Greek camp seems wholly genuine: he is one of the more well-meaning of the play’s multiple misjudgers.

It does take patience sometimes: dense intricate speeches with the senselessness of the war ever more apparent. But Doran’s meticulous production works all the laughs too: Andy Apollo’s glorious bare-chested Achilles avoiding single-combat with Hector by hanging out in his tent and doing weights and press-ups with his sweet bare-tummied lover Patroclus (actually the sanest of the characters). And there’s  Sheila Reid’s tiny, mocking, gnomelike Thersites taking the mick out of them all,  funny in her irrepressibility  then suddenly creepy in  gloating voyeurism as Cressida betrays her lost love.  There’s joy too in  Theo Ogundipe as a gloriously preening macho Ajax, up for any fight.   The theme of reputation recurs,  Troilus and Cressida vowing not to become eternal  by-words for infidelity,  and golden-haired Achilles always worried about whether he is worshipped enough.

 

But as the story darkens with Cressida’s capture there is real, visceral, obscene horror in the extraordinary scene where each of her Greek captors demands a kiss.  For this is a play about women as pawns of war, trophies,  objects of derisive desire.  It feels horribly current.  The terrible story sweeps you up: the vigour, the clamour, the extraordinary racket of macho metallic madness,  shield and sword echoing Glennie’s extraordinary score and at last nightmare .  When Achilles is driven to fight,  his  “myrmidons” are  half-ludicrous and half alien, dark horned creatures right out of Dr Who.    It is a puzzle, an oddity, a cry of rage :  it builds to a climax you don’t forget.

box office  http://www.rsc.org    uk  to 17 November

rating four

Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
Read more...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

Leave a Comment