Part of my effort to see every Shakespeare play.
We kick off our quest with a RSC live broadcast of Troilus and Cressida at Vue Wood Green. Troilus and Cressida is one of Shakepeare’s rarest performed plays, probably because it is rubbish. The plot is confusing, all moments of high drama are ultimately fudged, and the play just kind of stops suddenly and one of the secondary characters hurriedly delivers a gross-out speech to distract us all from that fact. Set seven years into the Siege of Troy, Troilus is Paris’ brother, and madly in love with a woman called Cressida, whose father has defected to the Greeks. Cressida’s uncle, Pandarus, promised to ah, acquaint them. Meanwhile, the Greeks are all hanging around outside in the city in tents, arguing about what to do and not a little bit annoyed with Achilles, who has huffed off to his tent to hang out with Petroclus and is refusing to set a heroic example to the rest of the Greek army. Troilus and Cressida hook up, but the next day, a prisoner exchange means that Cressida is sent to the Greeks to be with her father, and she makes the best of it by getting with Diamene. Troilus is devastated. A bunch of people are killed offstage including Petroclus. Achilles kills Hector in grief. The play ends. Hamlet it is not.
What the RSC did with it though, was pretty clever. Set in some dystopian steampunk universe, with high-octane acting, shirtless men and one of the best percussionists in the world providing the soundtrack, they did a pretty good job of entertaining me, which is ultimately really what these plays were written for.
The RSC went all out on diversity, going with a gender balanced cast, making the relationship between Achilles and Petroclus explicit and getting a deaf actor to play Cassandra.
Charlotte Arrowsmith was pretty good at Cassandra – she signed most of her lines and had another actor vocalise the important bits. It has to be said that I didn’t in fact notice that she was Deaf until I saw the interval interviews, so well done on a great performance.
The RSC to make the relationship between Achilles and Petroclus explicitly sexual and it really, really worked. They didn’t just shoehorn in some queers because it’s fashionable, it was written that way. Whatever Shakespeare’s original intentions were with that dialogue, he made a deliberate editorial choice to make it ambiguous enough in 1604 that you could interpret it as super gay and thank God I live in 2018 where that vision can be realised.
My laurel crown has to go to Oliver Ford Davies, however, who stole every scene he appeared in as Pandarus. Given that Troilus and Cressida are both boring characters, Pandarus’ creepiness and voyeurism was really funny and a highlight of the play, as well as delivering what was one of the funniest lines:
Amen. Whereupon I will show you a chamber with a
bed; which bed, because it shall not speak of your
pretty encounters, PRESS IT TO DEATH: away!”
The only thing I was disappointed by was the fact that we were only one of four attendees at this live broadcast. I have to blame this on Vue making it almost impossible to find and book the showing. It took me several goes, and having to shift from my phone to a desktop computer, to be able to buy a ticket. I hope they fix this, because I really appreciated being able to nip up to my local cinema to see a show being aired a hundred miles away, and I don’t want this cultural gift to be taken away from me because of poor ticket sales.
A good night out. Looking forward to the next one.