Friday, April 21, 2023

Troilus & Cressida


 Troilus & Cressida by William Shakespeare.  Adapted by Tony Allan; directed by Joe Woodward; original music by Jo Philp.  Daramalan College Theatre Company, at McCowage Hall, Dickson, Canberra.  April 22-29 2023.

Commentary by Frank McKone

In the best theatre education tradition, these senior secondary students are established as a complete company, covering front of house, backstage and onstage – with input from professionals on occasion.

There are times in the learning process when facing up to a challenge beyond expectations is a valuable exercise.  Staging Troilus & Cressida fits the bill.  The Daramalan group are not the first to find Shakespeare’s 1602 play a bit of a mystery.

As Wikipedia records “Troilus And Cressida; Or, Truth Found Too Late is a 1679 tragedy by the English writer John Dryden. It was first staged by the Duke's Company at the Dorset Garden Theatre in London. It was a reworking of William Shakespeare's 1602 play Troilus and Cressida, set during the Trojan Wars. In acknowledgement of this Dryden has the prologue spoken by Shakespeare's ghost, defending the alterations made to the play.”  It has been categorised as a Shakespeare ‘problem play’, and this may have been the first attempt after, it appears, only one performance in 1602/3.

But in more recent times “it has become increasingly popular. Peter Holland of Cambridge University attributes this to the work's relevance at times of impending war: William Poel's 1912 production served as a warning as the Great Powers of Europe armed themselves for conflict and Michael Macowan's modern dress production of 1938 at the Westminster Theatre coincided with the Munich crisis. In the international production at the Swan Theatre, Stratford, of August 2012, the depiction of Thersites as a wounded war veteran, and the manner in which the Myrmidons killed Hector, "resonat[ed] with […] the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."  

Today, considering Russia’s attempt to take control of Ukraine and other examples of warfare, Troilus & Cressida, with its combination of the politics which ended with the killing Hector by Achilles and the frustrated love story of the Trojan prince Troilus and the Trojan Cressida – whose father (Calchas) defects to the Greeks – is highly relevant.  Calchas persuades the Greeks to exchange the captured Trojan commander Antenor, for his daughter, so that he might be reunited with her. Troilus sees her at a distance, appearing to break her promise that even in the Greek camp, she will remain true to him.  In fact the man Troilus sees has engineered  the situation against her wishes; but Troilus is left believing an untruth, and never sees Cressida again.

In politics and in this personal romance, trust, faith in promises, and truth are the central issues of the play.  Much of the time the action is delayed, while characters argue about these issues in Shakespeare’s often philosophical and poetic language, based on Homer’s The Iliad – until finally Achilles does kill Hector.

Though this made the pacing of the student’s production slow, the success is not so much to be compared with what a fully professional company might do, as to be seen in the clear sense of achievement with which the cast were justifiably satisfied in the preview performance I observed.  And I have no doubt the experience and the learning about performing and social relationships will continue to grow over the five days of the show’s run.

For further study, read
Shakespeare’s Iliad: Homeric Themes In Troilus And Cressida
John L. Penwill
Text of the H.W. Allen Memorial Lecture
Ormond College, 19 September 2006

Available at