The Greek camp is by turns wily, cynical, stupid and profound. Within the walls of Troy, the culture is defined by codes of honour and romantic chivalry. These two views of life are pitted against each other in a series of brilliantly argued scenes, throughout which the central character of Troilus is wrenched and divided, culminating in his bitter loss of Cressida to the Greeks.
Shakespeare personifies his arguments with the most extraordinary array of characters - a whole host of legendary Greek and Trojan heroes, re-invented in all-too-frail human form - and offers one of the finest ensemble pieces ever written.
For seven years the Greeks and Trojans have been at war following the Trojan prince Paris abduction of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, from her Greek husband Menelaus. The besieging Greek army is encamped under the walls of Trny and, at the point at which the play begins, the war has reached stalemate.
The Greeks are quarrelling amongst themselves. Achilles, their greatest champinn, refuses to tight and has wth drawn to his tent with his lover, Patroclus. Ulysses tries to entice Achilles back to the field by arousing his jealousy against Ajax, a rival warrior, whom he acclaims as their new hero and elects to meet Hector the Trojan champion, in single combat.
Equally at odds with themselves, the Trojans are debating the value ot continuing the war merely for the sake of keeping Helen. Hector declares her not worth the lives she costs but when his brother Troilus contends that honour demands they continue to tight for her, Hector is brought round to his point of view.
Although the single combat between Ajax and Hector ends in a show of amity, hostilities are resumed the following day.
Troilus, however, is much distracted from these military concerns by his love for Cressida, the daughter ot Calchas, a Trojan who has defected to the Greek camp leaving his daughter in Troy. The young lovers are eagerly abetted by Cressidas uncle Pandarus, who acts as their go between. However, after only one night together they are parted when, in exchange tor the captured general Antener, Cressida is sent te join her father in the Greek camp. Almost immediately she betrays Troilus with the Greek Diemedes and, discoverng this, Troilus is plunged into despairFrom Plays & Players, August/September 1996 issue
'Troilus & Cressida could appear to be a play about the love affair between Troilus & Cressida. In Ian Judge's carefully constructed production, the love affair is only one aspect of the play; it may be an important aspect, but it sits as equal partner with others. We build up a big picture of war as little more than a big boy's game of strutting machismo: the only trouble with this game is that thousands of people get killed. Judge's production offers us a vast panoply of characters, very few of whom we emotionally engage with: we are stirred by images, the tone and by the manner in which the play reaches us.
As Achilles, Philip Quast walks that difficult path between lover and soldier: he poses less than the manly men, but we never doubt his soldierly qualities.'
The Mail. 25th July 1996
Troilus and Cressida by Shakespeare, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford upon Avon.
SELDOM have the feet of Greece's ancient heroes been revealed as flaky as their pectorals are perky.
Usually a first-class degree in the classics is required to steer one safely through Shakespeare's complex and cruel satire on the prolonged war, which destroyed Troy. Never was so much lost for what has been famously described as the vengeance of a cuckold upon a whore.
In trusting the text to its last sexual innuendo, Ian Judge has delivered an epic production, which is at once bold and funny, sexy and heroic, preposterous and tragic. It is an evening gilded with glittering performances, the entire mood being set by Richard McCabe's outrageously gossipy Prologue. It is sealed by Clive Francis's queenly Pandarus vicariously enjoying his lascivious match making. No sooner do the godlike princes of Troy parade beneath Cressida's window in all their warlike splendour than they are at once disrobed to the buff for a ritual rugby club steam bath.
Nor do the legends of Greece's greatness come off any better. Without distorting a word of the text, Edward de Souza's imperious Agamemnon is a huffy old monument to offended dignity while Ross O'Hennessy turns Ajax into a muscle-bound, thicko refugee from the Gladiators. Philip Quast's proud Achilles sulks petulantly in his silken tent with his blond himbo Patroclus (Jeremy Sheffield)
Yet for all its vainglorious homo-erotic overtones, the play's true heart exists wondrously in the quality casting of the title roles.
There can be no doubt that Joseph Fiennes and Victoria Hamilton are two of the most exciting, charismatic and sensual young actors of their generation. Fiennes brings to the rampant machismo of the Trojan brotherhood a genuine sensitivity and passion, while few can match Hamilton's delicate ardour and bubbling sense of mischief sacrificed in the cause of war.
That among all the plottings and posturings of elders and bitters these two true spirits should be so betrayed is the play's great tragedy, giving rise to its vigorously staged and awesome bloodbath.