An intense double-bill of Shakespeare's 'Troilus and Cressida' and 'Coriolanus'
War is a game of two halves in Fringe stalwarts Lazarus Theatre’s boldly realised Shakespeare rep. Their street-party re-imagining of ‘Troilus and Cressida’ may struggle under the confines of its own concept and staging, but a stripped-raw, sweat-box ‘Coriolanus’ is a smart and muscular revelation.
Banish any thoughts of hoary WWI period costumes: director Ricky Dukes instead abstracts the plays into scenes of tense courtly intrigue, constantly overwatched by his vast chorus of performers. Cressida’s betrayal takes place around a strip of gaily-decorated trestle tables, while Coriolanus debates his allegiance in what looks like a stark prison gym. Neither setting allows the cast to leave the stage between scenes, and instead they look on in awe as great events shift around them.
There are several occasions where this becomes a distraction – and more than a few moments in these heavily truncated texts are sunk by overcrowding – but at his best Dukes is a master of bold stage pictures, and both productions contain some stunning imagery. It’s hard to think of another company on the London fringe capable of tableaux on the scale of Cressida’s interrogation by almost 20 harlequin-masked Greeks.
It’s a mixed-ability cast, and there’s a lack of textual precision that emphasises this – several actors in ‘Troilus…’ struggle to find the meaning in their lines – but there are standouts: Prince Plockey makes a tremendous Coriolanus, Dukes’ cutting of the text leaving him plenty of space to carve out a fierce and robust reading, and Matt Butcher is excellent as both Pandarus and Cominius.
It’s a double-bill that sweats ambition, and if some of the finer points of both texts are worn down in the tumult, Lazarus have given us at least one punchy and memorable re-imagining.