Placed between the comedies and tragedies in the First Folio, Troilus and Cressida has always defied categorisation beyond the unhelpful ‘problem play’. Co-director Mark Ravenhill (who took over from Rupert Goold when film commitments intervened) argues in the programme that a work which expresses the muddle of life is not so much a problem as realistic.
Marin Ireland (Cressida) and Scott Shepherd (Troilus) in Troilus and Cressida Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Hugo Glendinning
The groundwork for this co-production - part of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012 - famously involved the experimental Wooster group rehearsing separately from the RSC cast. The American-Trojans did not meet the British-Greeks for some weeks during which the New Yorkers developed aspects of Native American society and the Brits became modern army chaps in faded camouflage. The result is, unfortunately, a mess. The confusion of existence is there all right, but not much which is recognisable as a realistic exploration of human relationships.
Pot-bellied Pandarus (Greg Mehrten) brings the young lovers together matter-of-factly. As Troilus woos her, Cressida (Marin Ireland) looks for guidance at one of the screens - ‘video-totems’ - which surround Troy and in which apparently real Inuits mostly reflect the action. At this point, however, they show schmaltzy Hollywood romance. Later, she strips to don Greek dress, ignored by her captors. Cressida can be a tease or a victim; here she is neither.
In the Greek camp things are a little better. Joe Dixon nails Achilles’ sulky vanity, Zubin Varla is a cynical transvestite Thersites and Danny Webb makes a good job of a Montgomery-esque Agamemnon. His unattractive Aussie Diomedes is less convincing, though, and Clifford Samuel has a near-impossible task doubling as girly Patroclus and aged Nestor in the same scene. Scott Handy’s well-spoken Ulysses provides a tantalising whiff of what might have been.