Troilus & Cressida at Riverside Studios: An experiment too far
I'm not purist about Shakespeare. I don't mind a bit of experiment, bit of tinkering, contemporary settings, cuts, scenes being rearranged etc just as long as there is a point and it is done well and doesn't get in the way of telling the story.
So I wasn't bothered that the Trojans in the RSC/Wooster Group co-production of Troilus and Cressida were styled as Native American's, played by American actors and the Greeks were dressed in modern military gear and played by Brits. It was a nice distinction.
What I was bothered about, to the point where I made a sharp exit at the interval, was incoherence in delivery and performance and the numerous inexplicable and distracting details.
This was a multimedia performance, a description that always makes my heart sink because it is rarely done with any real purpose or well. The multimedia consisted of four TV screens playing snippets of Native Americans and old films which, I noticed about three quarters into the first half, the actors would occasionally ape. So in a love scene between Troilus and Cressida the actors movements would mimic a love scene being played on the screens from an old black and white movie.
It was perfectly timed but added nothing other than to distract you from what was being said on stage and in the case of the aforementioned scene highlighted the lack of chemistry and emotion between the two stage actors.
What you got with Troilus and Cressida is lots of energetic and very OTT performances, again not in itself a problem until those big performances trampled over the sense of narrative, character development or emotion. Some (Ajax) were just annoying.
Scott Shepherd playing Troilus lacked any charisma (and isn't he supposed to be young?) and coupled with his American accent just reminded me of a boring character in the Simpsons. His delivery of the lines, like most of his American counterparts, was muddy. That's the best word I can think of to describe it, perhaps the microphones didn't help - yes the American actors, inexplicably, had microphones. It was as if their lines were being recited without true comprehension of what they mean.
For as big as some performances were others were just too small and dare I say a little bit emotionless and bland.
When the British actors playing the Greeks appeared for the first time the difference in delivery was immediately noticeable and they didn't wear mics.
I could go on picking faults and oddities but I feel like Troilus and Cressida, or at least the half I saw, has claimed enough of my life already. To summarise: the two theatre companies rehearsed separately and instead of heightening the cultural differences it just created a jumbled and incoherent mess which had at least two members of the audience laughing out loud with incredulity. And a couple of people, I noticed, snuck out during the first half which I don't think I've seen at the theatre before.
For my part I had to hide my initial shock with a hand over my mouth but that quickly turned to boredom for this unengaging mess.
It's getting a 'what were you thinking?' one star. It's on at the Riverside Studios until Sep 8. I'm not saying don't go and see it, everyone should make there own mind up but I'm not the first to dislike it intensely.
Joe Dixon who plays Achilles was also in Criminal Justice with Mr W.