Although the performance took place in the idyllic lakeside setting for The Curtain Theatre, Troilus and Cressida was no picnic. Austin Shakespeare put this summer's 16-member Young Shakespeare teen troupe into one of Shakespeare's grimmest and most cynical works.
The epic characters of Homer's Iliad manifest gallantry and heroic courtesy, and the Trojan lovebirds Troilus and Cressida, grafted from medieval courtly romances via Chaucer, plunge into oaths and carnal pleasure. But the guiding spirits here are lechery in the form of uncle Panderus and spite, in the figure of bitter, railing Thersites. Shakespeare viciously undercuts the build toward the romance as King Priam sends gentle Cressida to her traitor father Calcas in the Greek camp in exchange for a captured Trojan noble. The playwright gratifies the audience with some exultant, head-banging combat between heroes but then empties the meaning from their courtesies in the final scene when Achilles ambushes the weaponless Hector and cuts his throat.