Troilus and Cressida

One of Shakespeare’s least appreciated plays, director Rafaella Marcus’ rendition of Troilus & Cressida succeeds, to some extent, in questioning why that is. The story is about a lot more than the love tragedy of the eponymous couple as it delves into war strategy and political machinations between the Greeks and Trojans at a pivotal time. The play is an odd, sometimes jarring, blend of farce, tragedy and depth not typical of Shakespeare’s most popular works. However, it is with this unsettling nature of its storytelling that Marcus hopes to prove its relevance to contemporary society. And she does. Well, almost.

Across the board, the performances are impressive. Chris Adams’ Troilus is a measured and layered portrayal that at once reveals the character’s naivete and maturity. Charlotte Salkind gives a riveting and heartbreaking turn as Cressida. Her moments with Troilus are real and vigorous demonstrations of lust and love unbounded, showing with her body language a frustration in knowing that words and touch, the only available conduits of expression, are themselves, still, inadequate.

However, the night belongs to the marvelous Lucy Fyffe. Her Ulysses is nuanced and methodical, which trashes any notions of incidental gender-bending casting. She invokes distinctive, yet subtle, feminine traits to afford the audience a fresh perspective of Shakespeare’s dialogue, revealing layers new to those familiar with the script. It may be fair to say that the plays shortcomings are exposed by a performer operating on a slightly different level. Fyffe is certainly a name to watch.

Marcus’ staging is professional and confident, making sometimes strong and efficient use of the space provided. The fight sequences are realistic and surprisingly exciting. Also, Marcus uses blocking to visually juxtapose the love between Helen and Paris with that of Troilus and Cressida. Where the former are locked in a carnal embrace that emphasizes beyond the text the lust-lead connection between them, Troilus and Cressida, take over the stage. The expansive nature of their love is beautifully staged, helping the dialogue to convey the spiritual, intellectual and lustful aspects of it. Yet, despite these great moments, the play lacks originality, a new vision. No real risks are taken (save for some interesting gender-swapping), no new and exciting ways of delivering dramatic verve are explored.

Where there is a lack of consistency in tone, much of the blame lies within the script. Indeed, Marcus does very well to level out the tone, though not with complete success. Olivia Maden’s Thersites is not quite the great performance it could be because of its occasional slide into caricature. The same goes for Richard Hill’s Pandarus, another actor, like Fyffe, who shows plenty of evidence of a prosperous career in acting. Also, and on a pedantic note, the humming by the chorus between scene changes grows annoying and serves to dismantle the tensions painstakingly constructed in the scenes preceding them.

Troilus & Cressida is a confident production but one with a limited remit. And though it falls short of being the great convincer for audiences unfamiliar with Shakespeare and unconvinced of his relevance today, it is a notable attempt for those who are. Above all, Marcus demonstrates a natural touch for restraint and drawing out excellent performances. Perhaps a little less restraint is the lesson for the future.

3 stars

Tes Asfaw