Troilus and Cressida at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

One normally associates the Regent s Park Open Air Theatre with pastoral romps rather than Shakespeare s darkest plays. It was, therefore, a brave decision to put on a play whose twin themes, as Thersites puts it, are lechery and war - with a decided emphasis on the former.

Troilus and Cressida is the second Shakespearean production to open in London this month (following Cheek by Jowl s Much Ado) that is set in a late-Victorian era where the Greeks council of wars have the atmosphere of a gentleman s club. It is no wonder that, in such an atmosphere, women are regarded as little more than spoils of war.

Christopher Godwin s Pandarus is played in suitably louche manner: one of the highlights of the first half is his rendition of the “Love, love” song in high camp, Noel Coward style. This is a decidedly oily performance and one that brings Pandarus resolutely to life.

As Ulysses, Michael Elwyn gives an equally intelligent performance as the Machiavellian general, and Daniel Flynn s Achilles is a proud and determined warrior. And as Ajax, Tony Whittle gives a bravura performance as a vainglorious, posturing buffoon.

If there is a problem in the production, it is with Robert Hands tousle-haired, loutish Troilus and Rebecca Johnson s Cressida. This Troilus looks as if he d be more at home in Men Behaving Badly than on the Phrygian plain; certainly one gets no sense of the love-lorn boy.

Johnson s Cressida, at once coy and vampish with Troilus, is better, but her performance goes astray when she s taken to the Greek camp. One of the crucial parts of the play is whether she throws in her lot with Diomedes by choice or through sheer pragmtism. Johnson seems to gloss over this particular question and goes straight down the middle, no doubt keeping with the fashion for the Third Way.

And as Thersites, whose commentaries on the action, Clive Rowe seems to have stumbled in from another play; his wordplay with Achilles doesn t really grip.

Full marks should be given to director Alan Strachan for attempting such a difficult play and for producing such an intelligent production - even if all the parts don t quite gell together.

Maxwell Cooter