Shakespeare’s cynical picture of the Trojan War is so ripe for updating that it comes as a gratifying shock that Terry Hands’ epic production is firmly in period allowing us to draw our own parallels. Johan Engels’ vast and curved empty space allows the characters to sweep on and off in constant energetic flow while Hands has ensured that his cast speaks with understanding and clarity.
Daniel Hawksford’s strong Troilus has touches of his previous Romeo here, but Leila Crerar’s flighty Cressida is a far from constant lover, making sense of her behaviour when she’s returned to the Greeks. Though the play bears their names, the lovers are subsidiary to the men playing at war. For the Trojans Adrian Bouchet is a fine, muscular Hector and Robert Perkins a subtle Aeneas. The Greeks theatrically come off best, among them Simon Armstrong’s quietly ironic Ulysses, Dyfrig Morris’ bone-headed Ajax, Steffan Rhodri’s untrustworthy Diomedes and Gerard Murphy’s camp, louche and lascivious Achilles.
Standing aside from the main events are the two commentators. Jonson Willis’ wheedling Pandarus may be a pimp but is the one character we care about. Ben Fox’s Thersites is a great creation. Cursed with sores so convincing they kept making me want to scratch, his knockabout comedy is impure joy. Jenny Livsey’s gloriously screaming Cassandra makes it clear why no-one heeds her dire predictions. Victoria Pugh is a superbly selfish, preening Helen.
This magnificent production catches all the contradictory moods of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy making for a grand, sweeping and hugely entertaining spectacle.