Production underlines Shakespeare truth

Shakespeare has a disconcerting way of putting important truths into the mouths of some of his more disreputable characters.

It is the repulsive figure of the scurrilous Thersites, scabby and disfigured by open sores, who sums up the theme of Troilus and Cressida - "Lechery, lechery; still wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion."

John Barton's production emphasises throughout the relationship of the theme of betrayed love to the decay and corruption of all human values inevitable in a senseless and savage war.

Truth and honour, qualities often mentioned, are replaced by treachery and cunning in both personal and public life.

Verbally, this is the most difficult of Shakespeare's plays to follow, and Barton underlines his conception of what the play is about with compelling stage spectacle.

The riotous, adolescent, homosexual revels of Achilles and his friends in the Greek camp, reflect the same lack of any tenderness or concern for others revealed in the love , or more rightly lust, of the Trojans, Troilus and Cressida, for each other.

Often the true nature of relationships is indicated by the terminology of the market-place - people are to be bought, sold, or exchanged in this cruel world.

As usual, the consistent excellence of the Royal Shakespeare Company's ensemble acting is displayed.

Helen Mirren as Cressida, in her first major role, convincingly portrays a girl whose sexual appetite will destroy both herself and Michael Williams' Troilus, who has some powerful moments of anguish.

Norman Rodway's Thersites, David Waller's Pandarus, and Patrick Stewart's Hector, all make lasting impressions, but it is the dangerously effeminate Achilles of Alan Howard who grips the attention.

On this coldly hostile stage at the close of tis production are three dominating visual symbols, which finally state Barton's and Shakespeare's vision of the play - the battered sword and shield, the golden armour that led Hector to his treacherous death, and the monstrous tail which has served Thersites as a grotesque, mock, limp phallus throughout most of the action.

Over all stares the blood-red spectre of the Prologue.

In the director's notes to the cast Barton stresses the modernity of Troilus and Cressida. His production underlines this terible truth.

Gordon Parsons

Morning Star, 10.8.68.


Playing Shakespeare/Troilus and Cressida