Troilus and Cressida 2008

Previous Performances
Remarkably fresh, arresting and controversial...stunningly stagedThe Independent
Dazzling and vital-a staggering productionLe Figaro

The Trojan War, the defining legend of western literature, is stripped to its raw heart in Shakespeare's scathing satire on glory, chivalry and doomed love.

After seven years of fighting, the Greeks and the Trojans have reached a stalemate. As each side seeks a new thirst for bloodshed, they also discover that heroes and heroines do not only fall on the field of battle.

Produced by Cheek by Jowl in a co-production with barbicanbite08; Les Gémeaux/Sceaux/Scène Nationale; Koninklijke Schouwburg, The Hague.

Find out more by visiting the entry for this production in our archive
Mark BarrowAgamemnon Anthony
Paul BrennenAchilles / Priam
Lucy Briggs-OwenCressida / Andromache
Richard CantThersites / Calchas
David CavesHector
Coleman ParisOliver
David CollingsPandarus
Gabriel FlearyAlexander / Helenus
Mark HolgateDiomedes
Damian KearneyNestor
Ryan KiggellUlysses
Tom McClaneAeneas
Marianne OldhamHelen / Cassandra
David OnonokponoPatroclus
Laurence SpellmanAjax
Alex WaldmannTroilus

DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Associate Director & MovementJane Gibson
Lighting DesignerJudith Greenwood
MusicCatherine Jayes
Sound DesignerGregory Clarke
Assistant DirectorOwen Horsley
Company Voice WorkPatsy Rodenburg
Fight DirectorPaul Benzing
Casting DirectorSiobhan Bracke
Technical DirectorSimon Bourne
Costume SupervisorAngie Burns
Technical Stage ManagerDougie Wilson
Company Stage ManagerRichard Llewellyn
Deputy Stage ManagerClare Loxley
Assistant Stage ManagerRhiannon Harper
Wardrobe ManagerDavid Stringer
LightingKristina Hjelm
SoundHelen Atkinson


4 stars
No Shakespeare play feels more bitterly disillusioned than this cynical debunking of the heroic mythology of war. Its pessimistic scepticism chimes with the spirit of the age and there has been a run of incisive recent productions. But Declan Donnellan manages to offer a remarkably fresh, arresting and sometimes controversial vision of the piece in Cheek by Jowl's new staging at the Barbican.

The boldness and lucidity of this modern-dress account is evident from the opening lines. The sonorous Prologue is here delivered by Marianne Oldham's Helen, who wafts round the assembled troops, fondling sword-points and flashing an impervious celebrity smile. You're never allowed to forget that "All the argument is a whore and a cuckold" in this conflict, and later we see Helen and Oliver Coleman's dim hunk of a Paris posing for Hello magazinestyle photographs.

The production finds witty ways of cutting the heroes down to size. In their plastic protective gear, the big names of the Trojan army resemble a cross between big-headed American sport stars and Action Men dolls as they parade on and lap up the applause. Ryan Kiggell's Ulysses may identify the cause of the malaise in the Greek camp, but there's nothing lofty about his delivery of the "degree" speech. He reminds you of a nervy academic ? a manner that proves to be the disguise of a Machiavellian when, contradicting his own arguments, he distributes sexually compromising photos of Achilles and Patroclus.

Nick Ormerod's beautiful traverse-stage design is hung with strips of canvas besmirchedwith faded blood, which evoke bandages and the stained annals of war. For all that it is vividly alert to the discrepancies between the publicity-machine's lies and the sordid realities, this is not a production that settles for facile nihilism. Rather, it mourns the gap between ambition and achievement. Your attention is drawn to the flaws in David Caves's charismatic Hector, but there's an overwhelming sense of sorrow in the stunningly staged scene where he is slaughtered. The frenetic Troilus of Alex Waldman and Lucy Briggs-Owens' touching Cressida convince you that their love is more the victim of circumstance than of moral deficiencies.

The most egregious performance is from Richard Cant, who reinvents the scabrous Thersites as a viciously embittered transvestite - a Lily Savage skivvy in marigolds who is then dolled up as Marlene Dietrich for a ceasefire cabaret that, revealingly, turns into a homoerotic holiday from duty. Paul Taylor, The Independent. 2 June 2008
Inside the darkened confines of a theatre in southern Paris, Cheek By Jowl are preparing to open a new production of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. There are only a few hours to go until the first audience members troop in, but the company's founders and leading lights, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, don't seem to have noticed the time.

Ormerod is pondering over a music cue. Donnellan has interrupted thefinal run-through to coax a pair of actors into being more gentle with each other. I double check with an actor that I'm in the right place, and that curtain-up is just hours away. "Funny, isn't it?" she smiles. "But that's Declan and Nick. They can't quite leave it alone."

You could forgive the last-minute fuss. Regarded as unperformable for nearly 300 years, Shakespeare's study of a love affair stymied by the Trojan war was routinely ignored until the 1960s, and still counts as a rarity on stage. Some critics, frustrated by its riddling ambiguities, have seen it as a monumental failure. Others speculate that Shakespeare had some kind of breakdown while writing it, perhaps exhausted after writing Hamlet.

It's the kind of work, in other words, that needs thoughtful handling - and that's what Cheek By Jowl excels at. Founded in 1981, the company sprang into being during one of British theatre's periodic bouts of obesity - a time when Lloyd Webber showstoppers were all the rage and massive, concept-obsessed productions dominated the subsidised sector. Donnellan and Ormerod, aspiring young director and designer respectively (and partners in real life), wanted to turn things around. Their company would be small, supple, and cheap to run. It would travel incessantly. And it would offer an eclectic repertoire, small-scale, boutique versions of core English plays alongside big European scripts - Sophocles through to Corneille and Racine. Somehow, it all worked: with Ormerod's clean, lean designs and Donnellan's irreverent yet subtle direction, they developed a reputation for teasing the intricacies from classic texts while skewering the pieties that surround them.

Especially Shakespeare. Their 1986 version of Twelfth Night was unabashedly gay, featuring a Count Orsino who rather liked the idea of Viola dressing as a boy. Their Macbeth, the following year, boasted a female Porter who greeted audiences with a resounding "Fuck off!" (the Mirror branded it "SHOCKSPEARE"). The company's breakthrough came with an all-male As You Like It that had its debut in 1991 and returned three years later, touring the US, Brazil, Ireland, Russia and Japan. Everything about the show said Cheek By Jowl, from the vivacity of the casting to its gentle riffs on the comedy and pain of desire. The set, a canvas box that sprouted green pennants for the forest scenes, could barely have been simpler, and the actors played their own music on stage.

17 years on, that tiny troupe has given way to a multinational, multi- lingual operation, currently with three productions on the go: a French-language Andromache touring Belgium, a revival of their Russian Troilus and Cressida preparing to transfer to Salford - and the new Troilus, which comes to London via the Netherlands and Romania before flitting off to Spain. Andrew Dickenson, The Guardian. 22 May 2008

This cynic's Iliad has been so exhaustively mined in recent years that it is difficult to make new discoveries. But Declan Donnellan's admirably clear and coherent Cheek by Jowl production overturns one piece of conventional wisdom: that Trojan Hector and Greek Ulysses are the only men of vision in a corrupt and poisoned world.

The case of Hector is especially fascinating. In Julius Caesar Shakespeare showed how a well-intentioned liberal like Brutus prolongs the bloodshed he seeks to avoid. Here David Caves's Hector, armed with the vanity of the self-righteous, proves to be cut from the same cloth. Clad in what looks like a cricketer's protective gear, he enjoys the preening Trojan victory parades. Yet, after making a flawless case for the return of Helen, he subverts his own argument. And, having Ajax and Achilles at his mercy, he lets them go on the grounds "'tis fair play". In Caves's radical reinterpretation Hector emerges as a chivalric fool who only serves to extend the Trojan War.

Donnellan offers a similarly clear-eyed view of Ulysses, often seen as the epitome of Greek wisdom. In Ryan Kiggell's compelling performance he comes across as a voyeuristic intellectual who stoops to the dirtiest of tricks. Having loftily argued the importance of "degree", he distributes incriminating porno photos of Achilles. And the suspicion that Ulysses's cerebral detachment conceals a closeted sexuality is intensified by the way he feverishly claws Troilus after giving him first-hand evidence of Cressida's infidelity.

Donnellan doesn't, however, reinforce the play's comprehensive disillusion by turning Thersites, gamely performed by Richard Cant, into a Grecian Lily Savage who entertains the troops in the guise of Marlene Dietrich: his choric cry of "wars and lechery, nothing else holds fashion" falls oddly from the lips of a drag-queen who enjoys nothing more than skittering around in high heels. In seeking to clarify a complex play, given on a traverse stage marked by oatmeal-coloured banners, Donnellan also sometimes slows the verse-speaking down to dictation-speed.

But Alex Waldmann and Lucy Briggs-Owen highlight the callow vulnerability of the ill-fated lovers, David Collings's Pandarus is a suitably creepy clubman and Marianne Oldham's striking, ball-gowned Helen never lets us forget that she is the causus belli. She speaks the Prologue, suggestively fingering the Grecian sword-points, and is on stage throughout the battles, reminding us that she is the ultimate provocation of war. But that is typical of a production that maps out the play with bold assurance and demolishes the myth that heroic individualism can ever triumph over pointless bloodshed. Michael Billington,The Guardian. 15 May 2008
Theatre. Happy the theatre buffs who go from marvel to marvel. Novarina or Ionesco, but also Alfredo Arias, a character in Chantal Thomas' L'ile flottante, with Ninen Bretecher, a delicious mixture of Alain Passard and Chaillot. But also an absolutely brilliant 1940 Brecht, Dialogues d'exiles, directed by Valentin Rosier withJean-Quentin Chatelain in Saint-Denis, and also the exceptional Jean Sclavis interpreting Les Fourberies de Scapin with Emilie Valantin's marionettes at the Aquarium. But today, let us celebrate Shakespeare, Declan Donnellan, and the staggering version of Troilus and Cressida that he and his admirable company offer us. Many poets have concerned themselves with the story of the love of the youngest son of Priam for the inconstant daughter of the Trojan high priest who takes refuge with the Greeks... but when in 1602 the great William Shakespeare wrote his play, he developed the story, creating an unclassifiable masterpiece which mixes different registers and contrasting episodes with a dazzling freedom. For Declan Donnellan, who works here with English actors in their own language, Troilus and Cressida is a playground of possibilities. A double-fronted mechanism with - separating the two tiers of seating - a large podium with three strips of wood. On one side, they fall from the vertical; on the other one stands up, forming the exits (Nick Ormerod). Lights, music, sound, costumes, impressive fight-direction - everything is of an exhilarating perfection.

Two girls, four boys - one of whom rejoices delightfully in cross-dressing - carry Shakespeare's language with the grace of actors who are at the height of their art. And who are having fun. Emotional athletes, all beautiful, vigorous, precise, playful, they are fascinating, lively, mobile, intoxicatingly intelligent, as Donnellan demands. The surtitles are perfect and the time flies (two lots of 1hr 25 and an interval), gripped as we are by these intersecting and breathtaking stories, these grand characters that we know and recognise, and these hugely talented actors. Ammelie Haliot, Le Figaro. 28 March 2008

Interview with Declan Donnellan

Declan Donnellan talks to Dominic Cavendish during week three of Troilus and Cressida rehearsals.

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(18.2Mb) Published: Fri, 07 Mar 2008 16:38:18 GMT

Interview with Richard Cant (Thersites) and David Caves (Hector)

Richard Cant (Thersites) and David Caves (Hector) talk to Dominic Cavendish during week three of Troilus and Cressida rehearsals.

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(9.24Mb) Published: Fri, 07 Mar 2008 16:37:08 GMT

Interview with Lucy Briggs-Owen (Cressida) and Alex Waldmann (Troilus)

Lucy Briggs-Owen (Cressida) and Alex Waldmann (Troilus) talk to Dominic Cavendish during week three of Troilus and Cressida rehearsals.

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(10.1Mb) Published: Fri, 07 Mar 2008 16:35:56 GMT