There are a number of romantic pairings immediately recognizable within Shakespeare’s canon. Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, and even Hamlet and Ophelia. Ask all but the Bard’s most ardent fans though, and you will likely draw a blank when it comes to Troilus and Cressida.
For director Kevin Bennett, who returns to his alma mater to direct a production of Troilus and Cressida, there is a freedom to working on one of Shakespeare’s plays audiences might not recognize.
“I like plays that are a little lesser known,” admits Bennett. “It’s almost like working on a new play. I love digging into the big ones like Lear or Hamlet, but also love finding these other gems.”
I like plays that are a little lesser known. It’s almost like working on a new play. – Kevin Bennett
While working on a project like Troilus and Cressida might give a director the opportunity to work on a play without worry of comparisons, Bennett already has a reputation for innovation. With immersive productions of both Hamlet and King Lear under his belt, it comes as no surprise to hear he is planning something equally unconventional.
“This one we’re exploring possibilities of engaging with the audience,” he says. “It’s not audience participation, but you will definitely feel involved in it. Perhaps more than any other Shakespeare show that I’ve done.”
Without wanting to give away too much of what audiences might expect, Bennett is also putting a contemporary spin on the play.
“It will also feel more modern than any other play I’ve done,” he adds. “I’m interested in looking at it through the lens of contemporary clothes you might see on Main Street.”
Bennett’s vision is to make it recognizable, but still allow audiences to see it from their own unique perspective. “It will allow them to see it as a contemporary telling, or to place it where they want.”
The idea for setting Troilus and Cressida in modern dress comes from Bennett’s recent studies at London’s Globe Theatre, and subsequent tour in The Merchant of Venice.
“In Shakespeare’s time they would have worn clothes that were contemporary to them,” explains Bennett. “They had all these stock modern costumes of the time, but they were still very Elizabethan.”
Despite the modern Main Street hipster vibe and experiments in audience engagement though, for Bennett it all comes back to story.
“My main reason for choosing Troilus and Cressida is that it is a really good play,” he says. “It is a play about things that remain so prevalent today: war and love. They are two of the central things to the human experience, and it has some really juicy stuff in it.”
It also has much to say to audiences today. Even though it is set during the height of the Trojan War, Troilus and Cressida explores some universal questions.
“It asks its audience and characters why we go to war, why we fight, and why we think violence seems to be the answer to so many of our problems,” says Bennett. “In doing so it explores some of our deepest fears about love and relationships in our personal lives and explores the links between internal pain creating external turmoil.”
Troilus and Cressida plays Studio 58 at Langara College (100 West 49th Ave, Vancouver) from November 17 to December 4. Visit https://studio58.ca for tickets and information.