Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Troilus and Cressida.

To Stratford to see a strange and largely unsatisfying production of Troilus and Cressida, a co-production between the RSC and New York's experimental Wooster Group.

The idea behind the production - to direct one army, the Trojans, in New York using the techniques and rehearsal approaches developed by the Woosters over the last thirty years, whilst simultaneously directing the Greeks using the RSC's traditional rehearsal process is interesting - wars are indeed normally begun because two cultures clash over disputed territory; but what comes out in the wash is a self-conscious mish mash of game playing and cleverness, which abandons narrative clarity and imposes abstract philosophical ideas about appropriation, virtuality and the authority of text on the audience.

The Trojans are a miked, post-modern parody of native Americans, whilst the Greeks are a modern NATO force. It could be an intriguing anachronism, but in effect is just a callous assault on the audience's intelligence. After initial delight, it's as boring as a child's unstructured rambling. None of this is helped by some fairly dire verse speaking on the American side and a strange decision to keep most of the play in tact, keeping us in our seats for well over three and a half hours.

If you can entertain the frankly spurious notion, spelt out by co-director Mark Ravenhill in the programme note, that the intention is to create something 'inconsistant in tone' you're still left with the bewildering casualness of arbitrary choices. Even the use of monitors to screen snippets of Inuit cinema, which are then mirrored through the stage choreography, suggesting perhaps that behaviour and action are mediated through a dominant hegemony, is made inconsequential simply because the screens are too small.

There are some moments. Scott Handy is smashing as Ulysses and Zubin Varla brings a snarling malcontent to Thersites, but these are the rare occasions when the company relaxes back on Shakespeare's verse and allows it space to breathe.

The play already has its problems, mostly to do with Shakespeare's decision to begin and end the action within the siege of Troy, creating almost a fly on the wall documentary without context or conclusion. This seems to me fascinating enough for post-structural exploration, the additional layers introduced by both directors, seem ultimately to obscure rather than elucidate this fascinating play.

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