- Troilus and Cressida
The year 2006 marked an ambitious re-appraisal of the Shakespeare's Complete Works by the Royal Shakespeare Company. With the casting of well-known stars, including Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Judi Dench, and the presence of major theatre companies such as the Berliner Ensemble and the Teatr Piesn Kozla from Poland, it promised to be a year of groundbreaking and memorable performances. This production of Troilus and Cressida began as an integral part of Sir Brian McMaster's final season in charge of the Edinburgh International Festival, and later took up residence at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon as part of the company's Complete Works series.
Peter Stein, who has a long association with the Edinburgh Festival, directed this production of Troilus and Cressida, one of Shakespeare's more problematic plays—it is both thematically and syntactically dense, combining sexual politics with an increasingly barbarous war until the audience can seemingly only conclude with Thersites, "lechery, lechery; still, wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion." This new production contained a number of prominent achievements; most noteworthy were the effective and perceptive lighting effects, particularly during the procession of soldiers in 1.2. The vanity of war was illuminated by the strip of light beginning downstage right and traversing the stage to upstage left, upon which the warriors paraded. The scene resembled a fashion catwalk, a notion accentuated by the voyeurism of Pandarus and Cressida who stood downstage left admiring the armor-bedecked "models." Of equal [End Page 121] note were the costumes, which certainly contributed to this ever-present impression of personal conceit and narcissism. The warriors were, for the most part, dressed in short garments during the battle scenes, and the armor (helmets, shields) was ostentatious and flamboyant.
The set was dominated by a large, movable metal wall that remained a backdrop for a majority of the play but during the final act flattened out to provide the warriors with a sloped surface on which to wage war. To both sides of the stage, Stein placed tents, which later moved to the center of the stage and connected together to provide a meeting place for Cressida and Diomedes. The obtrusive tents and the use of the auditorium boxes as hiding places for Thersites (stage right) and Ulysses and Troilus (stage left) as they watched Cressida and Diomedes, created a sense, as Shakespeare's plays often do, of presentation rather than illusion, of disturbing the boundary between actors and audience. The set did, however, create problems for the production during the run, as the backstage equipment dramatically failed in the first half on the first two nights. Although fully functional during the performance I saw, the moving metallic surface drew attention to the technology itself more than it provided an instrument for actors' play or, conversely, an illusion of place. Though undoubtedly clever it seemed a little superfluous.
Stein assembled a fine and highly talented cast. Pettigrew, as Troilus, effectively created a sense of teenage angst and his transformation from forlorn lover to embittered, revengeful soldier was tragic. Clothier's Hector provided the heroic nobility while Ian Hughes as Thersites was his binary opposite, a cowardly comic who, nevertheless, remained the play's most perceptive commentator. The Greeks were equally well directed as older men plotting and scheming, inciting a war that is seemingly at a stalemate until the climactic confrontation of Achilles and Hector. Vincent Regan...