On Tuesday evening, February 26th, we went to see the movie theater presentation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, in a new presentation by the Royal Shakespeare Company. We were interested since this is a rare Shakespeare. (We saw it when American Players Theater did it in 2012, but haven’t seen it go by since--.) Upon seeing it again, I was reminded that this is a really talky script—lots of great lines, but there are lots and LOTS of lines overall. The RSC production was another post-apocalyptic setting (“Mad Max” specifically referenced in the pre-show talks), which worked pretty well, and gave the producers the opportunity to cast women in a number of traditionally male roles, for example Agamemnon (Suzanne Bertish), Ulysses (Adjoa Andoh), Aeneas (Amanda Harris), and Thersites (Sheila Reid). In one of the most interesting bits of casting, the role of Cassandra, the prophetess cursed by Apollo so that no one believes her, was played by Charlotte Arrowsmith, an actress who is deaf and does not speak. The scenes in which she is frantically trying to warn the Trojans by signs and non-verbal sounds, were amazingly effective and affecting as they totally fail to appreciate what she is trying to tell them.
There were some interesting emphases in this production that I hadn’t recalled as much from prior shows, notably the scheming between Nestor (Jim Hooper) and Ulysses to get Achilles back in the fight. In the Illiad, and in the version of the play I am familiar with, Hector kills Patroclus believing him to be Achilles, which motivates Achilles to revenge. In this show, her plot to move Achilles to action by rigging a lottery so that the chance to duel Hector falls to his rival, Ajax, doesn’t work, and in the next day’s battle, Ulysses assassinates Patroclus, and blames his death on Hector. This takes Ulysses’ cunning and cynicism rather farther than I thought justified. Also, she kills him with a pistol, which was jarring since no other guns are used in the show.
The title characters, played by Gavin Fowler and Amber James, are fun to watch and carry their parts well, although the characters’ motivations are mercurial. Oliver Ford Davies as the voluble Pandarus, was almost too effective, as I got tired of listening to him almost immediately. In this case, the fault is with Shakespeare, not the actor. Every major character seems to have at least one notable rant, and those by Ulysses, Agamemnon, and Troilus are particularly wordy.
That said, this was an interesting production, and we were glad to have seen it. The play was further enlivened by a musical score by percussionist Evelyn Glennie, which helped develop a nicely barbarous atmosphere.This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/336786.html. Please comment there using OpenID.