Review: Troilus & Cressida (UC Follies)

Troilus & Cressida pours out its soul in front of the Hart House Theatre.

There are few things that sound more romantically summertime than watching theatre in a park. So when I got the opportunity to see Troilus & Cressida (UC Follies) in front of the Hart House Theatre, I jumped on the chance.

It is an ambitious play to tackle, as the mood manic-depressively swings between comedy and tragedy and history (its known as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays). It follows the dispute between the Greeks (led by Agamemnon) and the Trojan’s over the theft of what we commonly know as the Face that Launched a Thousand Ships, Helen of Troy.

If you have not yet seen or read the play, I highly recommend becoming familiar with the plot and characters before you go out to see it. There are multiple plot lines and characters with conflicting and/or complementary motivations, so it can be confusing.

Another warning: this show is long – it is one of Shakespeare’s longest – probably due to the breadth of plot it attempts to cover (probably another reason it is considered a ‘problem play’). Be prepared to stick around for about three hours in conditions ranging from sunny to light rain.

The fantastic thing about this performance (though confusing in the beginning since I apparently hadn’t properly ready the cast list) was that contrary to the Shakespearean tradition of casting men in female roles (there are only a handful in Troilus & Cressida), they have cast women in male roles. I wish they had pushed boundaries even further with this as gender differences and roles play a large part in the subtext of this piece.

What they lacked in sophisticated stage effects (because how much can you really do on the grass) they made up for creatively. The Greeks have blue face paint; the Trojans had red and yellow. They designated male characters by shorts and tunic tops, while female characters wore skirts and dresses. Using this convention this helped with quick identification for the women cast into male roles.

This cast shines in the more intimate scenes – you really gain a sense of the energy that has been put into building these characters – highlights being many of the scenes between Achilles (Mike Wisniowski), Patroclus (Tom Beattie) and Thersites (Alyson Doyle), and the scene where Troilus (Elizabeth Stuart-Morris) and Cressida (Cheyenne Scott) first meet. They are packed with personality and punchlines and are incredibly entertaining.

In the larger scenes the energy felt somewhat unfocused and there are many distractions. Much of this is no fault of the cast and crew – the area that it was staged in is too central, so the performance is often ‘enhanced’ by a cacophony of traffic, horns, boisterous student yelling and the occasional overzealous car stereo.

Unfortunately this makes the dialogue is often hard to hear, particularly when characters turn away from the audience, this made the larger scenes more challenging to take in. When there is a company moving in the background – even when they are supposed to be talking among themselves – it was difficult to focus on the performers.

It could benefit from using a smaller space for performance, and taking a few creative liberties with the larger scenes – or establishing a more stringent choreography for these.

Overall, in spite of these shortcomings, this was a hugely ambitious project, especially to perform outdoors. The cast and crew put their hearts and souls into it and it was never lacking for energy.

Having never read the play I can’t say what sort of creative license they took – but I think with more time they could mould it into something their own – something that brings that energy out in some of the more challenging scenes and makes them more effective.


Details

– Troilus & Cressida by UC Follies plays at Hart House Circle (7 Hart House Circle) until July 28, 2012
– Shows are at 7:30 pm
– Tickets are $10 for Adults, $8 for Students and $6 for Seniors, and are available online or by calling 416-978-8849 or in person
– BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket