On the first day of July 1916 the Somme Offensive began.
Much has been written of this devastating series of battles which took place over the months of July to November and the ghastly death toll inflicted on both sides; many poignant images have filled our newspapers and television screens over the past few days serving as a sobering contrast to the post Brexit reportage that has so much dominated the media of late. The ironies of a Europe divided are not lost I am sure.
Conflict is at the heart of drama, and warfare is conflict at its starkest, most primal, fierce and brutal. Shakespeare’s oeuvre embraces many such bitter and brutal struggles of ideology and personal gain, be they the 100 Years War, the War of the Roses (so vividly revisited in the BBC’s recent Hollow Crown) or the wars of a classical age, the power-plays of Republican Rome and, in the case of our play, the Trojan War.
The names of a large number of the dramatis personae of Troilus and Cressida will be familiar to many – Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Ulysses, Ajax, Paris to name but a few – indeed possibly the least well known are the titular characters themselves; this is a piece rich in legend and classical storytelling. So, to transpose it, as Tim has done, to conflicts which are more familiar and evocative brings to the piece an added resonance and poignancy. Here is a tale of forbidden lovers, a revisiting of the themes of Rome and Juliet if you will, but also one which has as much as its heart an exploration of the nature of warfare, and a very particular warfare where pride, honour, glory and nobility are key, characteristics that are arguably much removed from contemporary battlefields. It cannot be denied that these qualities which were nonetheless vividly and tragically displayed on the fields of France and Belgium a century ago.
We had the first dress rehearsal yesterday and it is safe to say that, with the set, lighting, sound and costume, the evocation of this period and these themes was striking. I hope these photos give a slight taste of what is set to be a powerful and engaging rendering of a lesser known but challenging and exciting piece of theatre. It is easy to be put off by the fact that it is ‘Shakespeare’ and that Troilus & Cressida is not as well known a play as others from the canon but that would be doing the piece a disservice and perhaps denying oneself a compelling and thought provoking night of marvelous theatre. I firmly believe these pictures are testament to that fact and that the piece will deliver.
Opening night is on Thursday, there are still tickets available. I sincerely hope to see some of you there.