BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

07/08/2018 - 11/08/2018

Production Details

Shakespeare’s rarely performed political drama comes to BATS.

“Those wounds heal ill that men do give themselves” – Patroclus, Troilus and Cressida 

Set during the later half of the Trojan War, we are transported to the heart of the story as some of our iconic heroes like Hector, Achilles and Ulysses engage in political debate over whether to return the beautiful Helen or continue to fight.

Meanwhile Troilus, a young Trojan prince, pines for Cressida, a bright woman trying to play it cool. As two nations go to battle the two lovers are tested in a moment of fate.

Lonely Shakespeare Collective returns to present this striking political love story with modern flair and a few surprises.

Please be advised that this production features sexual references and scenes of violence that may cause distress.

BATS Theatre The Propeller Stage 
7 – 11 August
at 8pm 
Full Price $20 
Concession Price $15 
Group 6+ $14 

The Propeller Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

The Creative Team 
Lonely Shakespeare Collective are back at BATS after a successful season of Cymbeline last year. As a company their aim is to revive the less performed Shakespeare plays for the modern audience.
  You can find them on Facebook and Instagram at @lonelyshakespearecollective for more information and to see their work.

Theatre ,

At best it simmers with vitality

Review by John Smythe 08th Aug 2018

The Lonely Shakespeare Collective specialises in performing rarely performed plays from the Bard’s canon (last year they treated us to Cymbeline). As it happens, however, this is the third Troilus and Cressida produced in Wellington this century.

The play was certainly lonely in Shakespeare’s time. Classified by scholars as one of his ‘Problem Plays’ (along with All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure), Troilus and Cressida revisits Homer’s Illiad and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde in order to satirise the corrosively corruptive nature of war and romantic love. But it was ignored throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Only following the horrors of World War One did its cynical debunking of war as a glorious and honourable pursuit seem topically relevant.

The play takes place seven years into the very long Trojan war, when Helen (wife of Menelaus, King of Greece) has been abducted by Paris (son of Priam, King of Troy). Revenge, as ever, is the driver.

When Annie Ruth and Rangimoana Taylor co-directed it as Toi Whakaari/ The NZ Drama School’s graduation play in 2003, billed as The Tragic History of Troilus and Cressida – a Comedy, they set it at the time of the New Zealand Land Wars, so the Trojans were played as Māori and the Greeks as British-backed government forces, with captives and collaborators on both sides. “The posturing endemic to both Māori and British allows the lethal absurdities of war to be well sent up,” I wrote in my review. “And yet the bloody inevitabilities of armed conflict remain.”

Ngākau Toa’s astonishingly poetic, vibrant, physical and visceral The Māori Troilus and Cressida – Toroihi Rāua Ko Kāhira, translated by Te Haumihiata Mason and directed by Rachel House, was New Zealand’s contribution to the 2016 Globe to Globe festival of the entire Shakespeare canon (by which the London Globe commemorated the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death). Set in pre-Pākehā days, it characterised tribal conflict, with all the vengeful and revengeful scenarios that attended it, as fundamentally self-defeating despite the heroic status some characters had gained.

Now the Lonely Shakespeare Collective presents Troilus and Cressida as a “striking political love story with modern flair and a few surprises”. Director Ivana Palezevic choses “elements of cyberpunk” to bring modern values into collision with ancient history, “so we can ask ourselves, what has really changed?”

They have cut the character list of 34 (plus soldiers and musicians) to 18, played by 8 actors (4 female; 4 male) and changed gender titles and pronouns to present a world where Priam is the Queen of Troy and women have high office in the military. Hector, Agamemnon, Ulysses and Aeneas are all women, as is the Greek servant-cum-licensed-fool Thersites.

Jess Brownell has a ball playing a feisty Thersites, described on as “the most determinedly unpleasant person in all of Shakespeare”. But given she also “punctures every high-sounding ideal [she] comes across and unanswerably reduces the war to an absurdity over a domestic dispute”, today’s audience may be more inclined to align with her. Physically her fight with Jack Powers’ brawn-over-brain Ajax is a high point of the first half.

Similarly Pandarus (Darryn Woods), described on as a “giggling gossip and a filthy-minded voyeur who delights in arranging love affairs and mocking the participants … [and] has little patience with oaths of love, much preferring that lovers should get to the physical side of things quickly” raises valid questions about contemporary attitudes to sex and love.

The titular love story is much more problematical than the simple passions depicted, for example, in Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, although Hamlet (written just before T & C), does question the veracity of ‘love’.

Here Troilus seems very sincere in his love for Cressida and Hamish Boyle is endearingly awkward about it before their mutual passion kicks in. But when it is decreed that Cressida has to be handed over to the Greeks in exchange for a prisoner of war, Troilus is oddly compliant – then doubts her fidelity and becomes riddled with jealous judgments when witnessing her ways of coping with the welcoming Greeks.

While Cressida holds her own against her Uncle Pandarus’s lewdness, and claims her (lack of) status as a woman has meant she has had to wait for Troilus to make the first move, the question arises as to whether she really does love him or – given her response to Diomendes (Jack Powers), her sexy Greek minder – is she more into making love per se. Jessica Booth embodies Cressida convincingly, choosing to glide through her moods, going with the flow, rather than feeling conflicted. Booth saves her angst for the benighted Cassandra.

Alida Steemson contrasts an impressively high-status Agamemnon with a dipsomaniacle Queen Priam while Claudia Richards’ rather studious Ulysses flips over to a neon-wigged Helen as a socialite on the razz.  

Especially well-centred and convincing in his three roles is Brendan West, as a watchful then fighting-fit Achilles, a pretentious Paris and Cressida’s father, Calchas, who has defected to the Greeks and so wants his daughter there, for political expediency rather than paternal love.  

Brownell’s tough Hector is not to be trifled with while her Aeneas delivers her messages clearly. Boyle’s rather bland Patroclus and Woods’ rather over-stated ponderous old Nestor complete the cast.

The weapons are an array of wooden swords and clubs, such as LARPers might use. The fights – between Hector and Ajax, Troilus and Diomedes, Hector and Patroclus – choreographed by Powers and West, are well staged and especially riveting when the weapons are discarded for unarmed combat.

Achilles slaying of Hector, tagged with rhyming couplets, effectively brings home the casual barbarity of war as a way-of-life:
   My half-supp’d sword that frankly would have fed,
   Pleas’d with this dainty bait, thus goes to bed.
   Sheathes his sword.
   Come tie his body to my horse’s tail,
   Along the field I will the Troyan trail.

Overall the Lonely Shakespeare Collective brings an intelligent reading to Troilus and Cressida. Some parts seem a little under-rehearsed on opening night while at best it simmers with vitality. More underlying tension, jeopardy and downward pressure could make it more dramatic and bring more of the satirical comedy to the surface.  

As is often the case with opening nights, the shrieking delight of friends of the cast at clever acting tropes threatened to distort our perception of the play’s true purpose. And call me old fashioned, but I found one young woman’s tossing of plastic roses on to the stage in the middle of more than one scene to be totally inappropriate. That the actors took it into their strides, casually managing to dispose of the roses, in no way excuses her actions. Satirical this play may be but it’s not vaudeville. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council