January 27, 2023

Troilus and Cressida – The RSC collaborate with The Wooster Group.

I have now attended the Wooster Groups theatre work of the past two years, once on their New York home turf with a version of Tennessee Williams Vieux Carré and now on mine, with a version of Troilus and Cressida, at my devoutly cherished Royal Shakespeare Company. I choose the word attended specifically, because I fell asleep most of the way through Vieux Carré. I stress that this was not due specifically to their performance and most probably the result of jet lag and a nervousness of flying taking its toll. Equally the Baryshnikov Arts Center (where The Wooster Group are residents) with its high balcony too distant from the stage for my liking and rather cramped seating did not help my concentration. I therefore jumped at the chance of seeing them again with fresh eyes, where travel was two hours via car. My excitement was further amplified due to their designated adaptation; Troilus and Cressida, one of my favourites.

The performance has already been the subject of strong opinions so I don’t want to say too much and repeat feedback which is already familiar. I can certainly understand people’s reasons, primarily the Indian dialect of the Wooster’s Trojans deprived of emotion and rhythm.

I like to feel actively part of the play’s life, whether this is through a feeling of overriding fear, passion or repulsion, emotion for the characters – sometimes a connection, which in Cressida I had – which is why Shakespeare is the man of my adoration. For without this inner response I am actively searching for understanding and metaphors concerning what and how I am supposed to be feeling. Needless to say my brain aches as a result.

In the first part I did find myself laughing and smiling, as did my companion and the audience of the August 17th performance. The rocky and vibrant sounding music operated visibly at the side of the stage as an accompaniment to the Greeks animated equally vibrant personalities, kept me energised and alive.

However, in the second act, music was unable to push this connected heart-beat all the way through, mainly because of the discourse the second act generates, it needed an even bigger push. Perhaps the key in the second half then is no tricks and raw emotion, which is so naturally obtained from the language. However, would this be the Wooster Group?

Subsequently, where this raw emotion was unveiled, I felt myself rapidly come alive, my heart tugged at, as Scott Handy’s Ulysses delivered his honourable speech, honourable both in its content and performance. I felt myself even slightly falling for him and felt confused!  I wanted to adore Troilus, or at least understand Cressida’s yearning, but his dialogue and the way he held and dressed himself failed to launch any appreciation for his character.  Instead descriptives such as “drippy, feeble and whiny” came to mind.

However, enough said on things that didn’t suit my preferences. I do want to praise this collaboration and specifically The Wooster Group, who have likely been feeling some theatre-goers’ wraths of late. I actually liked and appreciated the use of video throughout the performance and found that it heightened my emotion in some cases. My friend said she found it impossible to concentrate on this, but I didn’t feel that it needed to be concentrated on. I found that when I could dip in and out of both of what was happening on stage and on screen, the images intensified my senses.  The Inuits took me to a completely different place in my imagination than Troilus and Cressida had taken me before; they took me to a place where love goes beyond chivalry and wooing a woman, beyond the corniness that perhaps is associated with Trojans, to providing for your family and keeping them safe and alive. The Trojans aren’t fighting for Helen herself, but for the honour they think they will or rather, feel required to receive.  To me Inuits are a personification of this honour, their daily hunt and fight for survival as a means of duty and love to the only occupants of their world.  It was a shame that Troilus did not coincide with this theme.

Equally, the 1960’s movie Splendor in the Grass (I am led to believe) added to the climax of Troilus and Cressida’s passion, both parties chasing one another in a frenzy of lust and immaturity. In this instance I adored how both actors mirrored the screen. I particularly liked Marin Ireland’s Cressida’s head in Scott Sheperd’s Troilus’s chest, when it was time to say her famous speech of declaration, admitting that she has been ‘won’. With ‘playtime’ being over, things had quickly become serious and adult, Cressida burying herself into Troilus, making him her protector and making herself a little girl.

Though this performance was not a version of Troilus and Cressida I favoured, it showed me ideas that I had not seen before and a response which was new and therefore, fitting for the mark of Shakespeare’s 448th birthday. The amount of work which has gone into it is admirable, some of which paid off and produced glimpses where I could see something of a marvel and therefore the potential for it’s entirety to be something that I could come away from in the future with awe and respect.

No matter what you take from this experience, whatever your opinions, you will feel like you belonged to something; albeit a spectacle disgruntledly argued upon, but none the less discussed and remembered.

1 Comment on Troilus and Cressida – The RSC collaborate with The Wooster Group.

  1. Really interesting review, Lauren, and a slightly more balanced one than I’ve seen elsewhere. There has been much vitriol from critics, scholars, and audience alike over this collaboration and even though I love both the RSC and Wooster Group, was wondering whether they had misfired on this occasion. Shame I missed it, I would have loved to judged for myself. Great write-up anyway.

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