Friday, March 9, 2012

Greek Love (with Trojans)

Oof, we watched Troilus and Cressida. Not a very satisfying play. I think Jonathan Miller's production did about as well with the piece as could be hoped for; the only major miscalculation seemed to me to be the role of Ulysses. I don't think it's entirely actor Benjamin Whitrow's fault that Laura and I found his character to be deadly dull, both of us wanting to nod off during his many long speeches. Towards the end of the play, Miller's direction had other characters actually acknowledging the fact that Ulysses tends to drone on and on. Yet the portrayal of Ulysses never had that sense of fun that you sometimes see with Polonius in Hamlet. With Miller's guidance, Whitrow either needed to try to actually engage us in Ulysses's speeches, or play him for more of a pure windbag.

By far the most engaging presence onscreen was "The Amazing Orlando" (Jack Birkett) as Thersites. With Birkett, Charles Gray's Pandarus, Simon Cutter's Patroclus, and David Kinsey as Paris's servant, this production often seemed to be one big "queen" contest. Birkett easily won. But more importantly, he also made a strong, passionate, and believable character out of a difficult role. Especially in the scenes by the fire, with his bald head, huge eyes, and wheedling voice, it was extraordinary how Birkett evoked Peter Jackson's Gollum, some 20 years before the Lord of the Rings movies.

I also want to give a shout out to Anthony Pedley, who was quite amusing as Ajax. He's clearly a favorite of Miller's, and it's been a treat to watch his distinctive, Bob Peckish presence in four of the BBC Shakespeares thus far. That's one of the treats of watching the series; watching terrific actors like Charles Gray go from a regal, stately Julius Caesar to a vamping, lecherous, syphilitic Pandarus. The BBC Shakespeare series is interesting not only in the opportunity it gives to watch all of the Bard's output, but also as a "thing" itself.

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