Troilus and Cressida, Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon; Hysteria, Theatre Royal, Bath
Heartbreak House, Festival Theatre, Chichester

RSC's co-production with avant-gardists from New York is more taxing than the Trojan wars

It's as if the ancient world's heroes and heroines have been subjected to an acid attack in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. Time and cynicism have corroded the reputations of Greece and Troy's legendary warriors and lovers. What remains? Tattered fragments and rotten scraps, as Prince Troilus himself observes when he sees his sweetheart handed to the enemy and proving unfaithful.

In the RSC's experimentally brave yet sorely disappointing co-production – jointly created with Manhattan's famed avant-gardists, The Wooster Group – the long-beseiged Trojans are played by actors from across the pond. Directed by Wooster veteran Elizabeth LeCompte, they're pretending to be American Indians but in pointedly cruddy, politically incorrect, faux ethnic costumes – pallid hicks dressed in feathers and tassled tunics that have been cobbled together from offcuts and smeared with gobbets of Styrofoam.

Plasma screens raised on poles show snippets from niche-market Inuit movies – romances on remote shores, and ritualistic wrestling ceremonies in igloos. Scott Shepherd's Troilus and Marin Ireland's Cressida keep glancing up and imitating the screen action in a deliberately half-baked way, while speaking Shakespeare's lines in a generally flat monotone.

Meanwhile, the Greek army are English thespians, directed by Mark Ravenhill (replacing Rupert Goold who withdrew from this project). Ravenhill's actors offer far more emotive verse-speaking, in the RSC's customary style – without film footage. They're in contemporary camouflage gear, except for the authority-defying gays in the ranks. Joe Dixon's Achilles slips into a scarlet sheath dress. Zubin Varla's Thersites is a transvestite cabaret act, sniping into a microphone, though without much bite.

The stylistic dichotomy highlights different strengths and weaknesses. LeCompte's aesthetic is strikingly weird and novel in the Swan. The flat-toned delivery also, arguably, reflects how characters prove insincere or are ultimately denied tragic depth in this problem play. The downside is that LeCompte offers no psychological insights en route. Her staging is technically layered – with the film footage in tandem – but that's often merely distracting. Conversely, Ravenhill is thin on directorial concepts. His team's modern army uniforms don't gel with the Native American set-up, and his programme note about exciting inconsistencies is unpersuasive.

At least the English actors' verse-speaking is lucid and animated. Scott Handy stands out as a needling Ulysses. All in all, though – lasting more than three hours, with no dramatic momentum – the evening feels longer than The Iliad.

Wars are being fought and Sigmund Freud stands accused of disloyalties in Hysteria, Terry Johnson's hit play from 1993. Now revived by the dramatist turned director, and starring Antony Sher as Freud, this is a strange fish, hovering between a biodrama and a bonkers fantasia, part romp, part thesis and part Pirandellian teaser, blurring real-life and assumed identities.

The august founding father of psychoanalysis finds himself entangled in a tongue-in-cheek sex farce, for starters (with surely a nod to Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw). Sher's white-bearded and tweedily respectable Freud, having determined to retire, is holed up in his snug, book-lined study in Hampstead. It's late at night and he's close to nodding off, when Indira Varma's frenetic Jessica suddenly pops up, hammering at his French windows, claiming she's his repressed anima, and rebelliously casting off her clothes.

Tossing aside his professional creed of exposing awkward truths, Sher's Freud bundles her into the adjoining closet and fibs like crazy to conceal her from his old colleague, Dr Yahuda. David Horovitch's Yahuda has been gruffly chastising Freud for debunking Jewish legends when Hitler's anti-Semitism is gaining ground on the Continent.

Another unwanted guest, Will Keen's moustachioed Salvador Dali also keeps twirling in and out: a devotee of Freud but with a ludicrously inflated ego. That, incidentally, makes Hysteria look more like a successor to Tom Stoppard's Dadaist biodrama Travesties.

Dali's paintings come in for a comical pasting, while Varma's Jessica, replaying the case history of one of Freud's past patients, bitterly rebukes Sigmund for retracting his belief in socially rife, patriarchal sexual abuse. She insinuates his own family relationships played a part in that.

Much of this is historically informed and thought-provoking. Varma's slide from game-playing into acute distress is spellbinding; Keen's balletic twirling is precision-tooled; and Sher has moments of humane gravitas and near-poetic lyricism. The farcical scenes seem feeble and Johnson cranks up his dramatic climaxes, but this is impressive summer programming by Bath Theatre Royal, and Hysteria tours too.

Star casting doesn't stop George Bernard Shaw's darkening social comedy Heartbreak House from being a woeful dud at Chichester. Derek Jacobi is likeable as the eccentric sea dog, Captain Shotover, who takes unexpected guests in his stride, or evasively feigns senility, at his boho family home. Fiona Button is also commendable as the rapidly disillusioned Ellie, who discovers her beau (Raymond Coulthard) is a rake married to Shotover's daughter, Hesione (Emma Fielding). The play gains resonance when Shotover philosophises about corrupt capitalists, hidden debts and looming disaster.

Nonetheless, Richard Clifford's staging is visually drab and so under-directed that half the cast seem to be completely at sea, merely striking poses and spieling their lines with no comic timing or conversational logic. As a result, GBS's dialogue sounds like a string of non-sequiturs. Almost surreally inept.

'Troilus and Cressida' (0844 800 1110) to 18 Aug, then Riverside, London (020-8237 1111) 24 Aug-18 Sep; 'Hysteria' (01225 448844) to 18 Aug, touring to 8 Sep; 'Heartbreak House' (01243 781312) to 25 Aug

Critic's Choice

Relive the golden days of Hollywood underneath the arches at Southwark Playhouse, south London, where Thom Southerland's scintillating Mack and Mabel does everything a big West End musical does, but up close and personal (to 25 Aug). The York Mystery Plays are revived on an epic scale (to 27 Aug), with 2,500 local people acting alongside professionals against the backdrop of St Mary's Abbey, York.

Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines