Director Sean O’Riordan wasn’t wrong to describe Troilus and Cressida as a “problem play.”

Shakespeare’s tragedy, action, comedy, drama and passenger-side view of the siege of Troy is not one of the Bard’s most prolific plays nor a straightforward template for any adaptation. Staged by Secret House at Marrickville’s Depot Theatre, an ample and able cast bring vivid life to this seldom-performed curiosity.

Fusing ancient swords and sandals with modern exemplars, a range of contemporary tunes littered throughout proceedings (bar a rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes) manages to hit the mark. Crowded and by virtue of it’s source material more than meandering in tone and else, the long list of players nonetheless create an impulsively frenetic atmosphere which imparts the goings-on with an urgency lesser seen in more traditional stagings.

With well-choreographed fight scenes and two clashes of steel serving as highlights of this very physical production, the stage is fittingly adorned with sand, of which patron’s themselves can’t but encounter. The design lends itself well to the classical atmospherics that are too bettered by a timely, restrained deployment of haze effects.

The set, surrounded by layered cloth which invokes an ancient air more than much else, is used exceptionally well for one confrontational sequence as several figures at once emerge from different junctures. In spite of this sizeable impact and the placement being evident throughout, this technique’s potential is otherwise never fully realised.

Margarita Gershkovich and Grace Naoum reverberate strongly as Achilles and Ajax respectively, as does Alec Ebert as Hector. The conspicuous decision to upend the familiar gender roles in this production is one of its more intriguing and memorable aspects. One particular declamation from the tale’s most recognisable figure takes on a new and particularly emphatic resonance that would not have been possible but for this creative casting.  Matthew Bartlett is also commendable as Troilus, among others managing to alleviate the play’s decidedly morbid aspects with an endearing light-heartedness that, for the purposes of the play’s more dramatic ends, is thankfully never overstated.

An uncommon choice from Shakespeare’s many classics to be sure, Secret House’s practised ensemble does more than justice to their material.

On Artshub

Secret House Presents

Troilus and Cressida

9-19 May The Depot Theatre