Troilus and Cressida

William Shakespeare
Clwyd Theatr Cymru
New Theatre, Cardiff
(2005)

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No near and yet so far. Clwyd Theatr Cymru has in Terry Hands one of the UK's most distinguished and experienced directors. Former associate director of the RSC and consultant director at the Comedie Francaise in Paris, he is now largely a prophet without honour except in his chosen Wales, few English theatre critics venturing over the Bristol Channel to review any of his work.

And yet the theatre is Mold where he directs at least part of the season offers an adventurous programme of work ranging from Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - this before the West End production starring Christian Slater - the little revived Arnold Wesker, Arthur Miller's The Crucible and, of course, Shakespeare, to name but a few examples from recent productions.

And, for my money, his production of Pinter's Betrayal a few years back beat the recent Peter Hall revival, er, hands down.

Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare's late-ish historical epic based on the Trojan wars, has been directed by Hands before, notably at the Aldwych in 1981 and subsequently at the Burgtheater in Vienna. In truth it's not one of the Bard's best (in this reviewer's opinion), and is, unsurprisingly therefore, seldom produced. The RSC and the National Theatre under Trevor Nunn both did productions six years ago or so. Since then the only reasonably large scale production I can recall is one by Bristol's Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory. It is, then, with a keen sense of anticipation that I took my place in Cardiff's grand New Theatre where this production is running for a week.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that the design by Johan Engels is stunning. The play opens with a single figure, clad from head to foot in golden armour, striding through the darkness across a sweep of what looks like earth or brick. Costumes are non-specific in terms of period and include leather trousers, boots, swathes of brightly coloured fabric and distressed Barber-type cloaks. Giant pieces of statuary including a golden head and a large horse descend.

Unfortunately while the eye is entranced the ear is appalled. Put simply, too many actors spend too much time roaring at one another. It may be that this is borne out of an effort to compensate for the wide open spaces of the New Theatre after the intimacy of Clwyd Theatr Cymru but the sense of Shakespeare's verse is lost, sometimes altogether, and the noise is horrible.

One is reminded of Hamlet's advice to actors, viz: "Speak the speech, I pray you trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Use all gently O! it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings." There are honourable exceptions - Jeffery Dench as Priam, King of Troy for one. But even those actors who don't roar can be horribly affected. Johnson Willis ais Pandarus is a screaming queen of the sort last encountered in Are You Being Served? while Leila Crerar is far too forward. Daniel Hawksford though is an ardent Troilus

The other problem - and I fully accept that the some of the warriors are meant to be at least a little ridiculous, full of their own self-importance - is a tendency for some actors to stand with their hands on their leather-clad hips - one even threw his head back and said, "hah" in finest Errol Flynn Robin Hood manner.

I wish I could say I liked this production more than I did, I really do. I don't know whether, as with the current England football squad, the fault lies with the players or the coach but Shakespeare simply shouldn't be this boring, this incomprehensible. In the hands of a company like Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, words written four or five centuries ago seem both intelligible and fresh-minted.

Cassandra, the prophetess, sums it up when, wild-eyed, she runs across the stage crying "Clamour!" You don't need a crystal ball to see she's dead right.

Reviewer: Pete Wood