There is hardly any Shakespeare at the fringe that isn’t dramatically altered in some way or another. Re-contextualisations abound, as does new work that’s derivative from a story or character. West Country-based Shakespeare on the Level’s Troilus and Cressida is neither of these. It has no gimmicks and no determinedly modern concepts. It is merely the text staged in a clear fashion that serves Shakespeare’s stories, with few divergences. This is not an innovative production and has a few faults, but is remarkably refreshing in its lack of fringe-ness.
Some cross-gendered casting is a welcome choice to improve balance between men and women. There are only three women in the cast of twelve so parity is hardly achieved, but the women in the cast also have the chance to play male roles. Director Kate Littlewood also makes Achilles openly gay, choosing to wile away the days in his tent with his lover, Patroclus. This is a lovely choice that aligns the play with its Greek and Roman roots and doesn’t disrupt the story.
The performances are mixed, with Susie Kimnell’s Helen and Louis Bowen’s Troilus standing out as particularly strong. There are some weak verse speakers who break up the rhythm, others aren’t fully connected to the text and either shout it or approach it too casually.
Littlewood takes a flowing, eastern approach to her costume design, though the Romans and the Greeks are very similar in style. With the multi-rolling necessary to cover the twenty-three characters and varied acting ability, a stronger visual indication of which camp is which would be welcome. She sets Troy in the round, and skilfully uses the diagonals so the audience can always see, and fight director Tom Jordan’s choreography also suits the space.
The story is cut down to a manageable length, maintains clarity and has a clear design concept. Though not a particularly fringe approach to Shakespeare, this is a well-staged production with a cast of emerging talent.
Troilus and Cressida runs through 27th August.
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