To say that Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is a play doomed to fail on stage is never an overstatement. Directors, and actors alike, are faced with textual obstacles: lengthy monologues, a cluster of forgettable characters, and a story nobody today knows or cares about. Despite his fairly strong cast, director Matthew Dunster cannot fully overcome these challenges.
Dunster treats Troilus and Cressida as it is, perhaps relying too much on the Bard. With [slider title=”noblemen”]
Helen and Paris in her Boudoir in Troilus and Cressida at the Globe Theatre © John Tramper
[/slider] in togas, [slider title=”warriors”]
Warriors fight on stage in Troilus and Cressida at the Globe Theatre © John Tramper
[/slider] in thongs and hard leather armour, and the stage plastered up to resemble a [slider title=”Greek Pantheon”]
Picture of the Globe Theatre stage in Troilus and Cressida © John Tramper
[/slider], there’s nothing fresh about this production.
Directorially, the show fails to solve the problems of a staged ‘problem play’ on multiple levels, causing characteristic incoherence and disintegration of the plot. The love between Troilus and Cressida, not being given much dramatic weight, starts off no better than a churlish affair. Paul Stocker’s bland Troilus bombards Laura Pyper’s free-spirited, determined Cressida with soap-opera-like praise and love that does not show genuine intensity until they are separated by the mandate of the state. Troilus receives the news with a loud, cringe worthy shriek.
In the Greek camp, there is a ‘subtler’ and more sinister mixture of discomfort, fear, threats of sexual harassment and assault when all the men slowly greet Cressida with predatory, forceful kisses. This, to say the least, gives her a valid reason for being fickle, for seeking security from Jay Taylor’s attractive, staunch Diomede. Here the audience is given adequate cause to sympathise with Cressida’s situation but not with her separation from Troilus.
Somewhat ironically, Dunster’s Troilus and Cressida, intended for the Globe’s Young Hearts season, hardly focuses on love at all. The ongoing wars are realistically portrayed as the Trojan warriors return drenched in blood, stumbling with exhaustion. It’s made clear that this tragedy of a nation is caused by the lascivious encounter between Ben Bishop’s repellent Paris and Ania Sowinski’s seductive, polygamous Helen. The Trojans have little choice but to keep fighting to maintain what is left. Heroism seems to be a myth as noble Hector is overthrown by the dark magic of Achilles (Trystan Gravelle), who is spotted with a strong Welsh accent, an awful lot of eyeliner and a black, lightly camp, valet Patroclus. This is an uncompromising depiction of a world plagued by lust and dog-eat-dog warfare, a provocative vision that, if more poignantly executed, could have been a success.
In this case, taking into account the tackiness of the young lovers and the anti-tragic realism of war, Dunster’s production is fractured. Crucial off-stage actions are left to be wondered at, which results in the production being jumbled and not unfolding smoothly enough for the mighty ending. There are some glimmers of directorial genius—Dunster triumphs when tackling the play’s sombre moments—and a few redeeming features, such as Matthew Kelly’s pantomimic, lust-struck Pandarus and the high-octane battle scenes, but that, alone, is not enough to save the show.