Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 5. 1964.
Troilus Well Done—
Troilus Well Done—
Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida", a little-performed unpleasant play, was magnificently revived in an acutely intelligent production by the V.U.W. Drama Club, celebrating the bard's Quater-Centenary at the Memorial Theatre on Saturday.
Most relevant to the problems of modern society, "Troilus and C ressida" records the ultimate catastrophe in man's experience: his realization of imminent chaos and nothingness. Scene by scene Shakespeare analyses the nature of value, finally concludes there is no absolute value, the only surviving absolute being the natural law of destruction.
The characters of Troilus, Hector, Ulysses, Achilles, Thersites and others talcing part in the Trojan War, are used by Shakespeare to illustrate this theme at both individual and public levels.
There is much discussion of abstract philosophical questions, and the dialectics of personalities determine the action. Naturally, this presents problems of communication to producer and actors.
Despite an informative production by Dr. Roger Savage, which at times glowed with life—a feat for any Wellington producer (the only comparable production I can recall is the 1959 Drama Club production by Richard Campion of Sophocles' "Oedipus") I doubt whether many of the audience fully understood what they were watching.
By merging scenes, Dr. Savage overcame some difficulties. Since every scene which emphasises nobility of conduct is invariably followed by a scene of a low moral tone (with either Thersites or Pandarus appearing in it) a violent contrast was achieved, highlighting disharmony and dissolution.
But in order to communicate the acutest cynicism and pitiless futility of the play, which even lacks Shakespeare's usual pervading mood of pity or humour, this contrast could have been even more violent.
The virtual disintegration of a civilization which unfolded on stage, was altogether too casual and attractive, there was little that was either distasteful or frightening about it.
This of course could have been Dr. Savage's intention, since he had placed the dark core of the play into an extremely gay and colourful wrapping, making use of the fixtures of the stage, set, lighting and music.
Fortunately Bruce Woods provided a stark set design, which lent a necessary charged atmosphere of spatial timelessness and overhanging violence and doom.
His costume designs seemed ultra-modern, though actually were semi-period, semi-abstract.
The trenchant music, composed by Jenny McLeod, emphasised the discord in the love and war scenes, and was an integral part of the show.
The central part of the heroic but confused idealist, Troilus was played with grace and sensitivity by Maarten van Dijk. By Act 3 he overrode my ruminations during Acts 1 and 2 about possible miscasting. In a cast of 30, he seemed to have the greatest understanding of his role. He was ideal in the love scenes with Cressida and moving in his portrayal of acute pain at the purloining of ideals.
Another good performance was that of Ian Mune as Pandarus naturalistic and matter-of-fact.
Vivien Flack's cute Cressida pouted and chirped entrancingly, suggesting a college-girl precocity.
All the women, incidentally, were primarly adornments, and did not bother particularly to portray feminine awareness, especially Kristin Strickland as Cassandra, Angelica Heinegg as Helen and Helen Sutch as Andromache.
The temperate Hector the knower and the seer, was played with natural authority by Matt O'Sullivan, the latter quality shared by Ross Jamieson as Achilles, who prowled and strode across the stage, livening up the scenes.
In my opinion, several crucial roles were miscast. The formidable characterisation of the wise Ulysses and the most degraded and venomous of Shakespeare's clowns, Thersites (both roles taxing to the mature experienced actor, let alone an amateur) were too sketchily drawn.
Michael Hirschfeld implied too much love of life and health, to be completely effective as the monstrous and diseased Thersites, who points out the futility of all values. Peter Engebretsen as Ulysses valiantly wrestled with and kicked at his role (for example, in the long speech on hierachical "degree") but finally lost the round. It would have been interesting to see what a more experienced actor would have made of the parts.
The most absorbing and exquisitely timed cameo performance came from Murray Gronwall as the servant Alexander—one wanted to see more of Mr. Gronwall.
Other memorable performances included John Haxton's Ajax, particularly effective when made the butt of sham flattery. John Tripe as Agamemnon, Peter Robb as Aeneas, Ashley Conland as Patroclus, in fact most performances had some saving grace about them.
Finally, I found several scenes particularly effective, for example, the Betrayal scene, curiously like a dream sequence from a Bergman film, the great scene in which Ulysses tries to persuade Achilles to forget his ill-humour and fight, the love-scene between Troilus and Cressida, Hector's ambush and death, and several others.