Arts: Music: Little ado about much

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TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY Shakespeare is all the rage. Last week, Cheek by Jowl unveiled their Much Ado About Nothing. Now Alan Strachan offers a not dissimilar slant on Troilus and Cressida, albeit with a middle-European feel and set a few years later, circa 1910.

Amid signs of anachronistic elegance, the deadlock between the Greeks and Trojans after seven years of siege is seen as much an invitation to bourgeois dissolution as an opportunity to rethink strategy.

You'd hardly know there was a war on. Outside the walls of Troy, Achilles inhales another cigarette while chinless Ajax tries vainly to pump iron. Within, life and courtship are conducted to the chink of coffee cup and champagne glass and outbreaks of Viennese waltz-music.

In his programme note, Strachan explains that the story of Troilus and faithless Cressida has been continually reworked down the ages. That Shakespeare's version is malleable goes without saying - the lovers' vows are self-consciously weighted with a sense of futurity. With the weather as it is, Strachan could probably justify his concept on the grounds of preserving his cast from hypothermia but otherwise the relocation seems more of a hindrance than a help.

The setting superficially chimes with the inaction that dominates proceedings, the general slackening off witnessed and lamented by both sides, the sapped morale. Certainly, Cressida's busy-body go-between uncle Pandarus is excellently provided for as a languid dandy (Christopher Godwin) who performs a sad tap-dance when Troilus finally gives him his marching orders.Even portraying Cassandra, prophet of doom, as a textbook Freudian hysteric seems plausible enough. But, throughout, Strachan allows things to stray perilously close to inertia.

Cheek by Jowl's Much Ado works not only because Declan Donnellan compensates for the stiff-upper-lip reading with beautiful choreographed movement, but because Shakespeare is on particularly sparky form. Here, the speeches are frequently ponderous, loaded withsimile-addicted rhetoric; a phrase like "the protractive trials of great Jove" doesn't sound like the sort of thing these super-refined souls would burden their weak lungs with.

The self-imposed restraint makes it harder for the outbursts of passion from Robert Hands' frowning Troilus and Rebecca Johnson's coquettish Cressida to heat the sang-froid atmosphere. A sense that the fortunes of individuals and states hang in the balance is never granted access into this overly polite society.

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