Troilus and Cressida: How many is too many, how few too few?

As longtime listeners to the podcast probably know, every play, I put together a concept and a cast for a hypothetical production. Troilus and Cressida, of course, is no different. Directorial concepts can be all over the map, stemming from what I’ve discovered is (for me at least) the overarching theme or motif for the play as text; for example, setting Much Ado About Nothing in the North following the Civil War, or Midsummer as a Nawlins Mardi Gras fever dream.

The casting, on the other hand, is usually pretty straightforward: Such-and-such an actor plays such-and-such a role for such-and-such a reason, and so on. The notable exception to this rule has been Twelfth Night with its “drag queen cabaret” concept.

Troilus and Cressida, though, has been a tough nut to crack. Thus, I’ve been looking at ANYthing to get me generating ideas. Some of the anythings I’ve been pondering: number of scenes in Act Five, the concept of commentators, the few women (and their negative depictions), and the weird dichotomy between the competing love and war plots of the play.

All interesting. Some helpful. But none was the Rosetta Stone, so to speak.

Then I looked at the list of actors itself. At 30 characters, Troilus and Cressida has fewer than the average (play: 36; problem play: 32). And it hit me.

What if we cut the actors of an already small cast? Multiple actors would play multiple parts.

Last year, I saw the world tour of Shakespeare’s Globe production of King Lear. That play, too, has a relatively small cast–just 25–but the production had only 8 actors. It was a very effective show, but occasionally there would be a moment that would spawn a laugh when an actor had to quickly switch between roles. It’s that kind of disconnect that I want to exploit, given the undercutting of both heroic and romantic expectations

Some questions:

  • how severely can we cut the cast?
  • do we cut entire characters? if so, who?
  • which characters work most logically for doubling?

With some creative doubling (and tripling) we can get down to 13 actors (without cutting any characters):

  • Prologue/Pandarus/Thersites
  • Troilus
  • Cressida/Cassandra
  • Helen/Calchas/Andromache
  • Priam/Agamemnon
  • Hector/Antenor
  • Diomedes/Menelaus/Deiphobus/Helenus
  • Achilles/Paris
  • Nestor/Alexander (Cressida’s servant)
  • Ajax/Troilus’ servant
  • Aeneas/Diomedes’ servant
  • Patroclus/Maragelon (the bastard)
  • Ulysses/Paris’ servant

Most likely characters to lose altogether: Antenor, Helenus, and Deiphobus, but given the doubling above, I’m not sure what that buys us.

This has been an interesting exercise, but to be honest, I haven’t a clue as to what the payoff is.

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