Troilus and Cressida

Rarely performed and more or less unknown to all but the most hardcore of Shakespeare addicts, Troilus and Cressida explores star-crossed love and political machinations in the midst of the Trojan War. This stripped back and streamlined performance from Shakespeare on the Level is a great argument for the play’s rediscovery, delivering a fast-paced wartime drama.

An incredibly enjoyable adaptation that trips along at a tremendous speed

Director Kate Littlewood wisely chooses to keep things simple. There’s no attempt to modernise the action – there’s already a surfeit of Shakespeare adaptations in khaki uniforms – and some floaty robes and a smattering of toplessness definitively place the action at the siege of Ilium. Littlewood takes advantage of the in-the-round setting to make the performance as immersive as possible, particularly during the fight scenes and military councils, and the few props that are used do a lot of work in setting the scene and never feel superfluous.

There is only one key reinterpretation of the original text, which recasts Cressida as a victim of sexual harassment rather than reading her (as is common) as merely fickle. Littlewood does well to capture the casual misogyny on both sides of the war, even Troilus and Pandarus are heavy-handed in the wooing of Cressida and there is a subtle suggestion that she is compelled into overhasty sex with her lover. Isabel Sutton’s Cressida, whilst believable in the role, is a little too inconsistent in her reading of the character to completely pull off the rereading. Her unrestrained anguish when she is forced to part with Troilus is ill-prepared for by her complete composure at the beginning, and we could have done with a greater sense of the character’s vulnerability from an earlier stage.

The production can’t compensate for the fact that the central romance is pretty slight to begin with, and the political material forms the thrilling heart of the production. Christopher Royle’s Ulysses is undoubtedly star of the show, bringing great gravitas to the scheming Greek, whilst James Meteyard’s Aeneas is equally slippery, with an icy, reptilian quality. Meteyard is also tremendously good at multi-roling and almost unrecognisable when playing the brave, but slightly thick, Ajax, though the characterisation is at times a little overblown. Louis Bowen also could have done with more nuance as Troilus, who comes across as an adolescent hothead and little else.

On the whole though, this is an incredibly enjoyable adaptation that trips along at a tremendous speed; a must-see for anyone looking to get acquainted with a forgotten Shakespeare classic.

Reviews by Simon Fearn

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The Blurb

‘Power into will, will into appetite’ – Shakespeareonthelevel applies its attack to Shakespeare’s thrilling play about the depravity of war. This young company of professional actors brings pace and precision to Shakespeare’s most energized language. Comedy, tragedy, history, satire, Shakespeare smashes Homer’s grand legend of the Trojan War while its gallery of stars lust and manipulate. This is a world in ruins – a war no one can win. Troilus and Cressida is sexually charged and politically dangerous, not just between Greeks and Trojans, but within each camp where personal rivalries carve up a civilisation.