For those of you unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s text, it’s your classic boy (Troylus) meets girl (Cressida) love story set amongst the politics of the Trojan War. The two characters fall in love, however soon after they ‘seal the deal’ they become separated by War and Troylus is left on him lonesome. Troylus catches Cressida flirting with another guy and becomes incredibly jealous and disdainful that their ‘love at first sight’ tale didn’t work out. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing war and talk about whether or not this should continue. The play has been described as one of Shakespeare’s most problematic texts as it oscillates between hilarious comedy and harrowing tragedy; this version has translated the uneasy tone in an extremely palpable way.
In this play, the Trojan War becomes a netball game where little Trojan horses of political statements are (figuratively) carried across the stage. The heteronormative dichotomy is replaced with questions on the performativity of gender and the erasure of the female voice from narratives. It also explores ideas regarding the destructiveness of ideas within masculinity, and our general lethargy and inability to see the world around us as we are sucked into the consumeristic, patriarchal vacuum.
Despite the weight of the ideas addressed, this play doesn’t fall short on entertainment and comic relief. It is filled with netball-team drama with an ‘A Team’ dominated by men in skirts and one central female character, Cressida, who is attempting to work her way into this ‘A team’/ boys club. There are a few romances weaved in and surrounding the action are three powerful women whose dangerous female gaze follows the characters, breaking the fourth wall between each scene as they address the audience. Throughout the performance, these women collectively muse over the futility of war, what it is to be women as symbols of mass destruction, death, and other stories that are unnervingly real for female audience members. As the play progresses, the initial romantic comedy-style world is be poked and prodded until it is completely ruptured, stripping away the veneer to reveal all that lies underneath it.
The set is cleverly designed and somehow manages to create multiple worlds within the same setting. At times you are watching and at times you are being watched, all from the comfort of your seat. You are drawn into the world of the play from the moment you enter as the characters are waiting in the space and remain there most of the time. There is a raised netball court in the center, rows of lockers on the sides, a balcony, and a windowed room that characters can stand behind. Between the set, lighting and sound design are a number of visually stunning and dark moments.
Monash University Shakespeare Company’s Troylus and Cressida is a work that you should see. It is everything you would ask for in a play; entertaining, aesthetically pleasing and well performed but also highly charged with political and social ideology. What will begin as a light romantic comedy with palatable comments on gender, identity and society, will take you on a journey into terrain that others often wouldn’t dare to go. You don’t need to understand Shakespeare to understand the pertinent questions that are raised in this explosive work.