Troilus and Cressida is one of Shakespeare's lesser-known tragedies, dealing with the siege of Troy by the Greeks during the Trojan war. Caught up in this conflict is Troilus, a Trojan prince, who has fallen in love with Cressida, a Trojan lady, whose father has defected to the Greeks. Among a cast of famous, mythical figures – including Achilles, Ulysses, Paris and Hector – can the lovers find, and more importantly, keep one another?
The play begins seven years into the siege. The war is at a stalemate, primarily because the various Greek factions are too busy fighting amongst themselves. Ulysses is scheming to try and drag a reluctant Achilles back into the fight, hoping this will reunite the warring factions and reinvigorate the Greek war effort. Meanwhile, in Troy, Priam's sons debate whether or not to return Paris' wife Helen to the Greeks, and thus end the conflict.
This young but professional company delivers outstanding production values, with effective lighting and a very stark and simple set – comprised of a single large white circle representing sand. It is performed in the round, and the whole audience is drawn into the action by the cast, who use all four connecting aisles for characters entrances and exits.
The characters are subtly colour-coded, with the Greeks wearing blues and purples and the Trojans wearing reds and yellows. This is an excellent idea, for two reasons. Firstly, a number of the scenes are groups of people gathered together talking and not necessarily introducing or identifying themselves; using the colours means that you can quickly identify which side is conversing. Secondly, many of the cast play multiple roles, and the change of colours – where necessary – prevents the audience becoming confused.
The acting throughout is superb. Special mentions are due to Christopher Royale's scheming, Machiavellian Ulysses, and the languid portrayal of Patroclus by James Mear.
Although the play is named Troilus and Cressida, their story is very much a sub-plot within their own play. The wider conflict of the war around them is far more prominent, and arguably, much more interesting. What criticisms I’d make are actually directed at Shakespeare: the climax of the play is a descent into chaos, which can be confusing to follow, and the ending is abrupt. The story begins a long time into the war, and finishes a long time before its end, leading to a frustrating lack of character and plot resolution.
But we can’t blame the performers for these historic weaknesses, and overall this is an excellent production of one of the Bard's lesser-known plays. Highly recommended.