First things first: Sam Mendes has a tremendous gift for getting to the core of a text – pinning movements and motivations on specific phrases, working from the words outward. About half the time this results in readings of brilliant simplicity: the other half, however, is superfluous, betraying a lack of trust in the text to do the work for itself. This Troilus shows both aspects to the full, with the unfortunate primary consequence of upping the comedy quotient of the Trojan War. Only Simon Russell Beale's camply acerbic, purulent Thersites gets away (triumphantly) with this, as a licensed fool: the dull, hulking warrior Ajax becomes a pantomime ogre. As for the tragedy of the young lovers... when the racked and dying go-between Pandarus's last lines get a direct laugh, something is very wrong. Possibly transferring from the Swan at Stratford into the Pit has cramped the production: possibly, though, it's just over-directed.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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