I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
Love and War
Troilus and Cressida has long been called one of Shakespeare's 'problem' plays. Director Sean O'Riordan states that a 'problem' play is one that doesn't necessarily fit into a particular category within the Shakespearean canon and "can have difficulties with either the language, plot or character." Whilst it certainly is refreshing to see a lesser-known and rarely performed Shakespearean work, the problematic nature of this play is evident and even the usually on top of their game Secret House struggle to make it resonate. That said, this is a play infrequently staged, so it is a bold and interesting choice for this company of Shakespeare specialists.
As the title suggests, the storyline focuses on the love story of Troilus, a Trojan prince, and Cressida, a headstrong Trojan woman who is sent as a prisoner of war to the Greeks after falling for Troilus. Cressida is quickly proven to be unfaithful to Troilus after forming an alliance with the Greek Diomedes. The entire story is set to the backdrop of the Trojan War with a secondary storyline that in actual fact takes up more of the stage time than the Troilus and Cressida relationship. The secondary story involves Achilles, the Greek warrior who refuses to take up arms and fight until Hector kills his friend (and lover) Patroclus. Achilles bears arms against Hector and the rest is history as we know it.
Director Sean O'Riordan, despite best efforts, has not managed to draw any meaningful commentary on the human condition that translates to an audience from his Troilus and Cressida, although again I believe much of that is due to the text itself. What is enjoyable is his gender-blind casting choices, that sees a ferocious Margarita Gershkovich take on the role of Achilles - very much a show highlight.
The set and costumes by Maya Keys are excellent, with the entire stage being transformed to the sands of Troy and billowing Grecian curtains sit pretty around the edge of the playing space. The fight choreography, too, is impressive with Scottie Witts taking the cast through their paces well. Lighting is also used to full effect by Mehran Mortezia in a space that is challenging to light.
In the role of Troilus, Matthew Bartlett is impressive. At one moment he is bouncing around the stage full of energy, in the next, he is working hard to connect with the more vulnerable Troilus in the wake of Cressida's betrayal. He shows a great ability working with Shakespearean language and it rolls off his tongue naturally and with ease. As his lover, Jane Angharad misses the mark, with her softly spoken Cressida difficult to hear or make much sense of.
Alec Ebert's interpretation of Hector is one of the highlights of the night, with his earnest, genuine performance making him one of the more sympathetic characters of the play.
Other notable performances come from Charles Upton's Pandarus, who makes the most of a smaller role, showing a good grasp of the text. Margarita Gershkovich is very enjoyable as the warrior Achilles and her relationship with Emma Wright's Patroclus is arguably the most fully formed of the production's. Danen Young is somewhat overbearing as Thersites and whilst this role is effectively the bawdy comic relief, he becomes grating as the play wears on. Grace Naoum's Ajax is feisty and plucky, but quickly fades into the background as the Achilles - Hector conflict rises to the surface.
Secret House's Troilus and Cressida harnesses a rarely seen play from the master of playwriting, however, it is the text itself, rather than the production quality that brings this production down. The show features a strong ensemble cast, who overall have a good grasp of performing Shakespeare's language and the staging of the play is aesthetically very pleasing. I look forward to seeing what Secret House tackle next.