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Troilus and Cressida

She is not worth what she doth cost the holding. — Hector on Helen
Troilus and Cressida
Paul Stocker as Troilus, Matthew Kelly as Pandarus and Laura Pyper as Cressida Blah blah as blah blah
(Photo: John Tramper)
The Globe's latest instalment in their 2009 Young Hearts season portrays love against a harsh backdrop of war and subverted heroism. Shakespeare's dark polemic attacks a society where commonsense and decency have broken down and instead brutality and lechery rule men's actions. However, this exposé of warmongering glory is also notoriously difficult to stage. With a plot both intricate and meanderingly inconclusive, the text is knotty and full of classical epithets whilst the cast is a sprawling ensemble of ancient celebrities in the main making a cameo appearance. Added to this the Globe's difficult, unwieldy space and Matthew Dunster's production earns immediate respect for sheer ambition.

Bravely or foolishly, then, this Troilus and Cressidamakes full use of the traditional stage to create a sense of the classical world in full scale. Stone-coloured drapes cover the theatre's stage and columns for a marble effect with an ominously cracked floor. Plays set in the ancient world often succumb to the temptation of outlandish, ludicrous costumes in their search for archaic otherness and this production is no different. Whilst the Trojans are densely tattooed and sport purple mini-skirts, the Greeks wear outrageously ruched cloaks. The battle scenes, on the other hand, parade a fest of varied helmets: plumed, Viking-style, rhino horn or horse mane.

This diversity runs throughout the production informing both the design and directorial choices. So, for example, a marketplace-style crowd with snake charmers, baskets of bread thrown to audience members and a generally rowdy horde at one point comes onstage for little apparent reason. Achilles' army of dread Myrmidons is rendered by a band of young boys in loose-fitting hoodies and black plimsolls. In the production's single overt anachronism, the prisoner of war Antenor is led onstage in a blue Guantanamo Bay suit. Although diverting, this miscellany of elements borders on the disjointed and suggests that the production would have benefitted instead from a single, coherent vision of the play.

Nevertheless, the cast are clear and convincing, with a youthful pair of lovers played by Laura Pyper and Paul Stocker. Laura Pyper is particularly impressive as a wide-eyed, flirtatious and feisty Cressida who is nonetheless ultimately a survivor. Matthew Kelly makes an admirably degenerate Pandarus, clearly lusting after Troilus. He effectively navigates the descent from affectation to desperation. Paul Hunter's Thersites is a classic interpretation of the scabrous role: bandy-legged, humpbacked and eye-patched, whilst Christopher Colquhoun's Hector is reasonable and decent in an indecent world. Trystan Gravelle is a slightly miscast as an effeminate, Welsh-accented Achilles wearing heavy kohl and spending most of his time lurking sulkily with Patroclus (Beru Tessema). Although Shakespeare's character is written as an anti-hero, Achilles' heroism needs to be constructed before deconstructed.

This is a solid, clear production of a tricky play with extra clowning and spectacle added in, tailored to the Globe's audience. The strong cast help explicate the more inaccessible parts of this rather esoteric text, but the staging's messy, haphazard elements prevent a sound production from being a great one.

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Troilus and Cressida
Written by Shakespeare
Directed by Matthew Dunster

With: Jamie Ballard, Ben Bishop, Olivia Chaney, Christopher Colquhoun, Matthew Flynn, Trystan Gravelle, Richard Hansell, Paul Hunter, Fraser James, Matthew Kelly, Séamus O'Neill, Laura Pyper, Ania Sowinski, John Stahl, Paul Stocker, Jay Taylor, Beru Tessema, Chinna Wodu
Musicians Joe Townsend, Jon Banks, Ian East, Phil Hopkins, Genevieve Wilkins
Designed by Anna Fleischle
Composed by Olly Fox
Choreographed by Aline David
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to: 20 September 2009
Reviewed by Cassie Robinson based on 22 July 2009 performance at Shakespeare's Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT (Tube: London Bridge)
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