Troilus and Cressida, RSC, Stratford - review with pictures
Back in the Bard's day, men played all the female roles in public performances of his plays.
So director Greg Doran's 'gender-neutral' staging of Troilus and Cressida is a nice 'up yours' to the Elizabethans who banned women from the stage, albeit 400 years on.
The biggest traditionally male roles given to women here are those of the Greek commander Agamemnon and his general Ulysses, mastered with ease by Suzanne Bertish and Adjoa Andoh respectively.
So clever of Doran to cast the women as the pragmatic, business-like Greeks rather than any of the romantic, soul-searching Trojans. In this production (as in life), they are hardly the weaker sex.
And no, it didn't jar that these and several other male roles were played by women. In this complex play, positively brimming with heroes, there are bigger challenges to overcome, like working out whether you really should be laughing and crying almost in the same breath.
One of Shakespeare's later plays, it cannot easily be defined as either tragedy, comedy or history. Some directors choose a stance and stick with it while others, like Doran, mix it up, seeing this as a truer reflection of life.
So there is the romance and tragedy of a war that after seven years, and counting, has become a political stalemate. The story, steeped in history, is given a futuristic edge, set in a dystopian landscape of rusting metal objects, menacing Jedi knight figures and the odd punk or two, with the clanking, crashing, thrilling 'percussion buffet' of composer Evelyn Glennie's soundscape.
Then we have Oliver Ford Davies' wonderfully funny, voyeuristic but never seedy Pandarus, who works to bring together the star-crossed lovers Troilus and Cressida, each from opposing camps in the neverending Trojan - Greek war. While Sheila Reid mines the comedy as the foul-mouthed Thersites, as does Theo Ogundipe as the strutting Ajax, who actually enters on stilts.
I also enjoyed Gavin Fowler's earnest Troilus, Amber James' straight-talking Cressida and, certainly not least, Andy Apollo – tall, graceful and sculpted – as Achilles, every inch the self-regarding hero.
Runs until February 2019.