Entering the Tristan Bates Theatre for Lazarus Theatre Company’s powerful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is a daunting experience. Everything appears hazy as smoke is pumped into the theatre, but gradually you see the balloons scattered across the stage, the table laid out for a birthday party and the soundtrack of drums beating creates a faint sense of unease.
Shakespeare’s tale of ancient warfare is a bleak and pessimistic look at love and war, devoid of real heroes and genuine love. In this production the cast enter blowing party horns and performing a conga line, the horns are being blown too loudly and the conga line goes on for too long, and the tension that has built up is brought to boiling point. These characters are in the city of Troy, under siege after seven years of war, and the shrill sound of the children’s horns is an ingenious means of conveying the stifling environment this play takes place in.
As the city of Troy is engaged in a protracted war with the Greeks, Troilus and Cressida meet and fall in love. The lovers courting is portrayed in an amusing and at times bawdy but also tender manner that is in keeping with Shakespeare’s text. Shakespeare’s play moves from bawdy humour to dark and harrowing tragedy and this production strikes that balance perfectly.
Early on as the Troilus and Pandaras discuss Cressida, the other fourteen cast members remain on stage silently bobbing balloons up in the air. This gentle movement portrays the temporary balance in place and yet is an ominous sign of what is to come.
When it is decided by the leaders of Troy that Cressida will be traded to the Greeks in exchange for another prisoner, we see with devastating clarity how Cressida is being traded as a commodity. However, in this production some of the ambiguity of Cressida’s actions is lost. Cressida’s motivations for aligning herself first to Troilus and then to Diomedes appear clear cut, they are victims of the callous brutality of war but this detracts from the uncertainty Shakespeare has written into the play. And that is the main criticism of this production, it is too short to address the depth of the play, however the attempt it makes is admirable and for the most part extremely effective.
Troilus becomes consumed with hatred and bent on revenge but the final battle is represented as a children’s game, where the perversity of war is starkly illuminated. The suffocating nature of the siege is also cleverly shown as the cast remain on stage throughout, during even the most intimate moments of Troilus and Cressida’s courtship. The lovers are constantly exposed to the designs of others. These devices could detract from the play but they do not, they simply heighten the atmosphere allowing the production to make the most of the short time it has.
Lazarus Theatre Company’s Troilus and Cressida is an abridged adaptation at around seventy-five minutes which focuses more on the lovers than the military rulers but contains enough to demonstrate the malignant nature of war and humanity itself. It moves rapidly from an intense tragedy to jubilant childishness and is full of party hats, juggling and balloons and it all serves a purpose. This is a riveting adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays, where there are no winners and there is no redemption for the characters.
Reviewed by Sean Morris
Troilus and Cressida is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until Saturday 6 September. Click here for tickets.