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Troilus and Cressida

The Daily Express 18th August 1976, Herbert Kretzmer

Of all Shakespeare’s plays “Troilus and Cressida” is one of the least popular and most rarely performed.

It is a cruel, joyless play, lacking an overwhelming central theme or dominant character like Hamlet, Macbeth or Lear. It has been called ‘a failure on a grand scale.’

Yet it is a play undeniably relevant to out own time of bloody violence and moral faithlessness, and last night’s production goes a long way to re-establish its grim sweep and stature.

The Greeks and Trojans are at war because Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, has been abducted. But this pretext has been all but forgotten after seven years of siege.

Though men still speak of honour, they kill more out of habit. Moral laws are flouted. The key line in the play is ‘Wars and lechery… nothing else holds fashion.’

The young Trojan Troilus, not yet 23, is distracted from military concerns by his passion for Cressida. But she wantonly betrays him. The theme of treachery is crowned when Hector, the super-warrior, is murdered when he is unarmed and defenceless.

As the long evening – three-and-a-half hours of it – wears on, the play becomes a riveting study of man’s enduring inhumanity and insatiable taste for blood

Notable in a large and splendid cast are: Francesca Annis as the false Cressida; Mike Gwilym as Troilus; and, as the brave Hector, Michael Pennington, an actor of magnetic physical presence who, on last night’s showing, has a superb future ahead of him.

In short, a great play rediscovered.

Yorkshire Post 20th September 1977, Anthony Seymour

The Royal Shakespeare Company, continuing its year of great successes at the Aldwych, has brought in an enthralling and stately version of “Troilus and Cressida.”

This revival was John Barton’s conception for Stratford a year ago, where he directed it with Barry Kyle, who will be remembered in York for his productions there some years ago.

Mr Kyle has re-directed it for London, and it is his work which most impressed me in reviving Shakespeare at his most scornful in deriding man’s aspirations.

It is a long play, running there for three and a half hours, and it is not the easiest to stage nor, with its cynicism, the most popular. Mr Kyle’s approach is uncluttered, direct, and smoothly highlights the moral decay attendant on the siege of Troy.

In their beleaguered city, the Trojans hold the abducted and beautiful Helen for whose return the Greeks have gone to war. After seven years there is a stalemate with both sides bickering among themselves. Simply by putting huge wooden struts around the stage, the designed Chris Dyer, gives a claustrophobic effect of a city under siege.

I thought the company could do with some strengthening in a few roles, but many contributing to the martial epic do so outstandingly. As Hector, Michael Pennington is a most powerful, towering, majestic and proud warrior. Richard Durden has an oily power as the abductor, Paris.

Mike Gwilym, one of the company’s most arresting young actors, moves from a love-sick dreamer to a vicious killer with compelling power.

Francesca Annis is a skittish, flirtatious Cressida.

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