Friday 17 August 2012
Theatre review: Troilus and Cressida (RSC & Wooster Group / Swan & Riverside Studios)
The two sides' stories are largely told separately, which is where the high concept I alluded to above comes in. This is essentially two separate productions: The Greeks are played by British actors, directed by Ravenhill on behalf of the RSC; the Trojans are played by American actors, directed by Elizabeth LeCompte for New York's Wooster Group. The two halves have their own creative teams and design concepts: Ravenhill's Greeks (designed by Laura Hopkins, who's also responsible for the overall set design) are modern-day soldiers in desert camouflage, with much of the action set around a field hospital. LeCompte's Trojans (designed by Studio Folkert de Jong) are Native Americans fighting off an invasion.
But characterisation is quite obviously not the point; image and movement are. Around the stage (and blocking the Swan's usually excellent sightlines a bit) are four TV screens, showing clips of what looks like documentary footage of Eskimos, sometimes intercut with scenes from old movies (I'm sure I spotted a young Warren Beatty at one point.) Two of the screens show the action the right way round, the other two show the mirror image. The US actors frequently watch these screens, mimicking the actions they see there, timing them to coincide with the video footage. We're definitely meant to constantly notice the fact that they're looking at the screens: According to their website they've been working on this since 2010 (!) so I reckon they should know their moves by now; and often the actors choose not to look at the monitor in their direct eyeline, but crane their necks to look at another. But whatever the reason for drawing attention to it, its effect is the same: The actors aren't engaging with each other, their own characters or the audience. Why, then, should the audience engage with them?
Three Kingdoms has made me ultra-aware of the possible tensions and rivalries when very different international companies collaborate.)
Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare is booking until the 18th of August at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon; and from the 23rd of August to the 8th of September at Riverside Studios, London.
Running time: 3 hours including interval.