THE CRITICS : A triumph for the wrong camp

THEATRE

The RSC's first production of Troilus and Cressida for six years finds us renewing our acquaintance with the Greek camp, the Trojan camp and plenty of other varieties of camp. An early casualty, in this playful context, where the grim realities of war take second place to preening and posturing, is the scabrous commentator on events, Thersites.

Richard McCabe bounds on - straggly blond hair, bug-eyes - to deliver the prologue with the fruity histrionics of John Sessions. This turns out paradoxically to be a fairly monotonous thing to do. In Ian Judge's production, McCabe finds himself surrounded by attention-grabbers. Just look around. The Greek warrior Ajax (Ross O'Hennessy) has the physique and skimpy costume of a Chippendale and speaks with a lugubrious Welsh accent. Cressida's uncle, Pandarus (Clive Francis), has a pasty face, a mincing walk, and the suggestive intonations of a Trojan Kenneth Williams. He tugs, winsomely, at his black ringlets and barely controls his excitement when Hector (Louis Hilyer) passes. The taciturn Patroclus (Jeremy Sheffield) mysteriously shuts Thersites up with a big kiss. And so on. It's down to Philip Voss, as an impressively articulate Ulysses, to anchor the play's political and social concerns: mellifluous and acidic, with a basilisk smile, when Voss speaks we hear each syllable. Elsewhere, sexuality is everywhere and nowhere, spreading a tired theatrical gloss on passion and eroticism.

The sexual chemistry between the young lovers - played by two of the RSC's brightest stars - never materialises. The excellent Victoria Hamilton, who is in the fast track of British theatre (she recently shone alongside Alan Bates in The Master Builder), makes a flirty, quick-witted Cressida. Give her some red specs and she could present a late-night arts programme. She's down-to-earth, modern and precise. Even when she is indecisive - as she is when alone in the Greek camp with Diomedes (Richard Dillane) - she is decisively indecisive.

The sensitive, romantic Joseph Fiennes (younger brother of Ralph) looks perfect for sensitive, romantic Troilus. He keeps himself in a state of perpetual emotion. He wobbles his head. His voice quavers and warbles, rising delicately at line endings. This is before anything much has happened. When something does happen (Cressida leaving, say) his voice has nowhere to go. When Fiennes explodes at Diomedes ("Grecian, thou dost not use me courteously..."), I heard the voice of another fretful loser: Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

Judge handles the battle scenes well: the ritualised warfare is choreographed by Lindsay Dolan. John Gunter's designs of the battered walls of Troy - with fiery sunsets that glow across the backdrop - move us quickly between rival armies. But within the rival camps of this production, the wrong one triumphs.

In half a dozen plays written specifically for the RSC, the American playwright Richard Nelson has explored Anglo-American relations. In his latest, The General from America, he focuses on Benedict Arnold, the American general who in 1779 attempted to hand George Washington over to the British. Arnold sounds the Brits out while the suspicious Americans sound Arnold out. Will he be rumbled? It has the makings of a defector thriller: an 18th-century version of the Sean Connery movie The Hunt for Red October.

Nelson is too suave a dramatist for this kind of crowd-pleaser. With an elegant touch he debunks his material. This works excellently when depicting the shifting, provisional atmosphere in which America found its independence. What it means to be American is caught at an embryonic stage. Chance and mishap rule. When Arnold (James Laurenson) meets with British intermediary Major Andre in a field near the Hudson, Andre, played quite broadly by Adam Godley, gets laughs as the foppish beanpole poet and actor who won't stop drinking. This deflates the drama. The plot hinges - perhaps truthfully, certainly flimsily - on Arnold's wife stopping Arnold's sister from giving her a crucial piece of news because she wants to go to bed. Nelson has developed his own genre: the ironical history play. The General from America lacks the big scene that crystallises all the others. Like Arnold, for all its promise, it fails to deliver.

Laurenson never gets a chance to impress us as the general. He's always on the defensive: blustering, evasive, offended. Nelson doesn't takes us far enough inside his mind to involve us in a crisis of conscience. Laurenson looks happiest in his dealings with Corin Redgrave, the chuckling, watery-eyed, jowly George Washington, who mocks the fact that the British have offered to name a city after him if he surrenders.

In Howard Davies's production, atmosphere is largely provided by Martin Slavin's soundtrack. There are good performances from Jay McInnes, as Laurenson's young wife, shooting sharp devotional looks to her husband; Stephen Boxer as the chilly Major Kemble; and the alert, intelligent David Tennant as Hamilton, Washington's secretary, who firmly interrogates Arnold while holding a quill in one hand and a cup of tea and a piece of cake in the other.

There's a moment in The Lights, a new play about city life by Howard Korder, first premiered in New York, when the two shop assistant girls have been picked up by two blokes, and gone back to one of the blokes' apartments, and suddenly something starts to happen. Well, a play starts to happen. The Lights ceases to be about dislocated lives, the millions who live one on top of another, the odyssey from innocence to experience, and becomes a scene about four people in an apartment who only met that evening. It doesn't last. The Lights is one of those plays (set, naturally, in an unnamed city) where it doesn't matter where characters are - shop, bar, hotel lobby, skyscraper, abandoned building - they invariably discuss an aspect of the play's theme: city life.

Ian Rickson's Royal Court production places the audience on the stage and the actors on the three levels of the auditorium. It gives us the split levels, but blurs the focus. Deirdre Harrison powers the show as the feisty Rose, leading her emotionally inchoate friend Lilian (a wispy, angular Emily Mortimer) in and out of trouble. Lee Ross quickly palls as the anguished jilted boyfriend, and Colin Stinton turns in a colourful cameo as the champagne crook who leads the girls back to his apartment. If only we stayed there.

Theatre details: Going Out, page 14

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

    £12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders