By William Shakespeare
Directed by Matthew Dunster
Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe
Date: Wednesday 2nd September 2009
“War and lechery” is what this play’s usually about, and we got plenty of that today. We also got a good reading of the central relationship, and a running time of less than three hours for which my behind was very thankful.
The set projected forward of the stage again, with a curved edge. A narrowing channel ran from the ground level at the far side of the stage up at an angle almost to our side, with the slope allowing additional access to the stage. There was a square platform in front of the regular balcony, draped with cloth above and with curtains at each pillar below. The two main pillars were also concealed behind cloth wraps which made them look like, well, pillars, and the whole floor seemed to be covered with gray tarpaulin which had been painted with the odd bluish streak to resemble marble. It looked odd to begin with, but we were soon caught up in the story and the well wrapped set, with its hidden surprises, soon became an important part of the performance.
The unfolding of fabrics was a key part of this. While there were some armour storage solutions brought on from time to time, the main changes were brought about by drawing curtains, lifting up cloth to make the top of a tent, displaying a map of Greece, and using a long piece of green material to wrap around a pillar for Pandarus’s orchard. There may have been other things I’ve forgotten now, but the best bit was probably near the end. When Troilus comes on shouting about Hector’s death (Hector’s body is lying in the channel, with a decent-sized trickle of blood running down from it) black streamers fell down each pillar in the auditorium, simultaneously, and so abruptly that the audience gasped. It was a good effect, and overall it was one of the most active sets I’ve seen here.
The story was pretty active too, with plenty of sword fighting to keep us amused. Thersites’ initial description of the situation was illustrated with soldiers from both camps – Greeks in blue and Trojans in purple (makes a nice change from red). They didn’t fight, but did some practice manoeuvres (i.e. dances) instead. They didn’t hold back when it came to the actual battles, though.
The love story between Troilus and Cressida developed nicely, with Matthew Kelly as Pandarus giving a tremendous performance. I could hear every word and understood most of it too, even without the occasional lewd gesture to help it along. His own affection for Troilus was pretty clear, and I noticed how much he was concerned for that young man rather than his niece when the news of the exchange arrived. He made the most of every funny line, and was the best thing on the stage.
Cressida seemed a bit too lively at the start, running around all over the stage for no apparent reason, but at least this time we knew what she really felt about Troilus. As the story developed, particularly when she was first brought into the Greek camp, she came into her own and her vivacity and wit fell into place. I felt sorry for her, and I was very aware of a sense of menace in her situation in the Greek camp; she seemed to be looking towards Diomed for protection, and although she regretted being unfaithful to Troilus I couldn’t see what other choices she had.
Troilus was manly enough and not as silly as I’ve sometimes seen before. The Greeks were all fine, with the exception of Thersites, who delivered his lines in such a straightforward way that much of the humour disappeared. However he did add in one or two bits of his own, such as picking up debris from the battle and declaring “Trojan war memorabilia” then trying to sell it to the audience. Ajax was wonderfully full of himself, and it was good to see Jamie Ballard again, this time playing Ulysses, the crafty Greek who manipulates Achilles so well. These machinations were good fun, especially with Ajax strutting his stuff. I found Trystan Gravelle’s Achilles a bit wimpy myself – he clearly needed the benefit of his dip in the river Styx to be able to survive in battle. I also find that the Globe’s policy of letting each actor use their own accent contributes to the lack of clarity in the dialogue, as it not only takes me longer to tune in to a variety of accents, but some accents just don’t work so well in delivering Shakespeare’s lines. However on the whole the lines came across reasonably well this time.
The ending of the play was extended by having Pandarus give us a reprise of many of his lines from the play, as if from his grief and loathing. As he did so, the rest of the cast gradually came on stage with drums; in place of the usual dance we got a drum chorus instead, and very good it was too. Not the best production I’ve seen, but they kept the pace up and gave us a good performance.
© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me