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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Shakespeare's Contemporary Rarely Produced Play

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

"Troilus and Cressida" is regarded as one of Shakespeare's problematic plays. It is difficult to pigeon hole and seems to be an ill-fated wedding of two competing stories somehow thatched together. Yet the play is more contemporary in themes and more a play about youthful energies than any of his other works. In developing a production of it, I take my cue from a former student who advised that to present Shakespeare to today, one shouldn't just adapt it but rather one should produce it as if it had never been done before. This has implications for analysis, preparation and design that gives rise to some very pertinent processes that may reframe Shakespeare's writing into something quite different and unexpected.

The Process

Trying to forget whatever we have read about the play, has meant we are totally focused on what our audience will actually perceive

After numerous discussions between Director and Dramaturg, auditions were held for a suitable cast.

Seeing who was available played a part in cutting and adapting the actual text. Seeing the work through the eyes of our likely contemporary audience, we did something we haven't ever done before: add in some commentaries on the action as spoken by Narrators ... likely to be mainly from the characters of Pandarus and Thersites. Trying to forget whatever we have read about the play, has meant we are totally focused on what our audience will actually perceive.

While generally dividing the Greeks and Trojans into two gangs, we have focused on the youthful energies contained in the violence, the playfulness, sexuality, manipulations, posturing, narcissism and vanities that give rise to peer insecurities. The work seems to be more about appearances, playing to other's views about who we are and surviving within this giant fabrication ... as Shakespeare elsewhere says this "great stage of fools".

Our characters dress up their insecurities and vulnerabilities in costume and dress-ups as if on a catwalk presenting themselves to each other and to audiences. Yet all, except perhaps Thersites, Pandarus and Ulysses are fools.

The implications for us are these:

  • actors jump in and out of character with a sense of playful working the moment

  • that imagined fourth wall is consistently broken

  • the audience becomes part of the show

  • the moments of really high intensity are held up very clearly for the audience's examination and consideration

  • the actors cannot hide behind characters; meaning they need to be super confident in all they do for the whole performance and share an ease with each other and the audience

  • where possible the characters reveal their narcissistic qualities for seeking approval or simply consciously constructing how they are to be seen by other ...

  • Brecht's approaches are very useful.

The Design

The "Frypan" design aims for a suggestion of the ancient and mythic with a simple and minimalist design of a reverse catwalk. It may also appear like a wharf or pier ...

The audience will be surrounding the stage area on three sides with some table seating directly in front.

The scale set model is scaled at 6cm per 1 metre. The audience seating plan is not to scale and so is a rough approximation to the stage and I would suggest they will be closer that suggested in this diagram.

A functioning bar will be located at the back of the room. This will add to the party feel of the occasion.

Actors with RSA qualifications will be characters behind the bar and assist in making the night an integrated affair.

The over-all design will be one of integration and exposure of vulnerabilities from cast, audience and characters.

First Time for the Play

In effect, the play will be produced for the first time; even though it was written over four hundred years ago. It deals with emerging sexuality, the confrontation of insane wars, the absurdity of the adult world and it's preoccupation with honour, survival and tribalism.

The work will have much to say. It will challenge the general narcissism of our culture, youth culture, consumerism, nationalism and any ism you wish to name. Much of this will be shown through the costume and make-up designs. These will differentiate the Greeks from the Trojans. Greeks being more militant and "post Nazi punkish" while the Trojans will be more "Steam punk passively aggressive metro-individuals" ... but all are quite foolish and absurd. They all parade on a catwalk that comes from some cultural nowhere land and presents to an even more culturally wasted auditorium of would-be serious certainists (ie. People who feel certain in their understanding of everything)!

I give you "Troilus and Cressida"

Joe Woodward Artistic Director


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