THE LAST time the RSC staged Troilus and Cressida, it was all muscular thighs and bursting thongs - camper than a row of Greek tents.
Michael Boyd, in the new staging at The Pit, reverts to the more usual practice of making reference to the First World War, highlighting the fact that this is a drama which had to wait until the present cynical, blood-stained century before it came into its own.
But Boyd gives this updating a further twist by presenting the Trojans as an extended Irish family who could have strayed in from a neighbouring production of a play by JM Synge, or from the Easter Rising. The Greeks, by contrast, appear in boring grey suits and look like a convention of pistol-toting provincial bank managers who have chosen to spend their weekends re-enacting the Fall of Troy. A touch of the exotic is provided, though, by Darrell D'Silva's Achilles. He is seemingly into voodoo, and at one fateful point brings in a slaughtered chicken whose blood is sprinkled round the stage by his catamite Patroclus. This latter is played by Elaine Pyke, a stripling-like actress in a suit. Not altogether fortunate casting, since it makes Achilles look as though he's knocking off the Winslow Boy.
There are some strong, vivid performances. Playing Thersites as a filthy cross between a war photographer and a bowler-hatted music-hall clown, Lloyd Hutchinson gives a deflatingly funny Northern Irish inflexion to this choric commentator's scathing observations. Paul Hamilton is splendid, too, as a brainlessly glaring Ajax. But, conceptually, the production fails to add up: it feels like an incoherent accumulation of individually compelling touches.
The Irish Trojans are presumably meant to make you think of other small nations wrecked by war, most obviously in the Balkans. But, with such details as presenting one of Priam's sons - distractingly - as a rifle- wielding Roman Catholic priest, the analogy is too localised. A statue of the Virgin stands in the corner of the Trojan's bullet-riddled cottage- cum-bunker and there's a telling moment where this icon is replaced by a sarcastic tableau vivant of Sara Stewart's Venus-like Helen of Troy, who poses in serene self-amusement while black-shawled girls sing hymns.
This sacrilegious travesty is a striking way of showing the worthlessness of the woman the war is being fought over.
Boyd has revamped the conclusion. Instead of its ending with the Pandarus's sickly time-bridging epilogue, he reorders the speeches and closes as William Houston's suicidally disillusioned Troilus repeats the line: "I reck not though thou end my life today." By that stage, you understand how he feels.
His brother Hector (Alistair Petrie) has not only been killed but, in this version, had his heart ripped out by Achilles. Jayne Ashbourne's pert Colleen of a Cressida has been subjected to a sort of tango-ing gang rape from the reception committee in Greece and has sought the only safety open to a woman.
All of this is memorably staged; but it's not, the greatest compliment to say of a production that it has its moments.
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