The first Troilus and Cressida at the Globe is not the best I’ve seen, nor the worst, by a long chalk, and Matthew Dunster’s production keeps an audience busy with its parade of characters in a play often thought of as Shakespeare’s most intellectual and consciously philosophical drama.
So it’s a tribute to Dunster’s clarity of staging that a Globe audience, even one spattered with rain or diverted by multiple fainting fits - I witnessed at least four at the opening matinee - stays with the action from start to finish, even though the Greeks remain camped outside the Trojan gates as they have been for the past seven years…
Dunster and his savvy production team of designer Anna Fleischle, composer Olly Fox, choreographer Aline David and fight director Kevin McCurdy have devised a visually strong and muscular milieu, the ongoing campaign represented in an opening slow motion battle sequence, with Trojans differentiated in blue tunics under leather jerkins and every bare-torsoed hero tattooed within an inch of his life.
They appear for us, these Greek demi-gods, as they do before Laura Pyper’s pretty, gamine and impressionable Cressida, from Matthew Flynn’s imposing Agamemnon and Jay Taylor’s seductive “honey Greek” Diomedes - Cressida’s near-nemesis - right through to the vigorous authority of John Stahl’s notable Nestor and Chinna Wodu’s fine Ajax.
Unusually, Ulysses is done with a winning lightness of touch by Jamie Ballard, his two great speeches landing with devastating effect, like volleys of punches in the ring, and these counterbalance the scattergun cynicism of Paul Hunter’s ferrety, one-eyed Thersites with his refrain of wars and lechery echoing through the military councils.
Pyper and Paul Stocker as Troilus make an appealing young couple blown about on the edge of the battlefield, while Matthew Kelly puts in another outstanding performance as Pandarus, embracing the whole theatre in his devious and splendidly articulated bed-plotting, bending this way and that like an overgrown willow and leering at all the exposed male flesh like a superannuated brothel-creeper with naughty ideas fast outstripping his potency. A rewarding production, well worth the effort.