Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare's Globe, London

Michael Coveney
Tuesday 28 July 2009 00:00
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The two "difficult" Shakespeare plays rediscovered in the past 50 years are Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida, and neither shows any sign yet of losing its appeal, if that's the right word, for a modern audience.

Whereas Measure needs little coaxing to reveal the taut skein of its intersecting strands of public life and private morality, Troilus can often become tangled in good intentions and the knottiness of its own arguments.

While Matthew Dunster's fine Globe production doesn't have the surface brilliance of Sam Mendes' unbeatable RSC version years ago, it does grip.

That's no mean achievement at the Globe, whose outdoor properties and shuffling patrons suit the Bard's flourishes more than his denser passages. But nobody speaks in the play without being certain of that which he means, and that takes us through the philosophical passages, war-mongering debates and historical contextualising with minimal fuss.

Troilus is, above all, a sociopolitical document of decay and disease during an endless war, the point of which most people have forgotten. Its heroes have become empty vessels, its victims marginalised nonentities, and Thersites roams the field spraying all participants in contempt and abuse.

Paul Hunter's embittered little Greek creep doesn't have the disgusted authority and sense of spiritual independence that Simon Russell Beale once managed, but he does represent the verminous reality of a voice of protest no one much heeds any more.

The Greeks, camped outside Troy for seven years with no sign of a solution, are otherwise represented by strutting demigods, living legends, such as Matthew Flynn's powerful Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief, and Trystan Gravelle's preening, over-made-up Welsh-accented Achilles, lolling in a muslin boudoir with his companion Patroclus (Beru Tessema).

Against this background, the enthusiastic calf love of Paul Stocker's troubled Troilus and Laura Pyper's sweetly determined Cressida is positive and refreshing. Even when taunted by the Greeks, and apparently seduced by Jay Taylor's very attractive Diomedes, Pyper remains resolutely alive and alert, totally unfazed.

To 20 September (020-7401 9919; www.shakespeares-globe.org)

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