The play concerns John Shank, talent-scout and trainer of boy-players who act female parts in the theatre in 1630s London. When Shank loses a fortune in a failed investment he faces ruin. The only way out is to train a new boy to be a brilliant actor and thus sell him for a big price. However, the new boy is hopeless at acting!
The plot of this play is actually secondary to the main story. The play is mainly about how poor boys were bought and sold, bullied and abused freely by the theatre profession in the 17th century. The author tells us in the program notes that all but one of the characters in CRESSIDA existed. Details of their lives were acquired from recorded wills, letters, and other sources.
I have to be honest and say that Michael Gambon is one of my favourite actors. He is an actor of phenomenal talent, a natural born actor if ever there was one. So without trying to be too biased I have to say that Gambon yet again excels. His resounding clear voice is a dream and his pose dominates the stage. He has the ability to metamorphosis from being a gentle and humorous individual to an angry one with ease. In this play all these qualities are expressed. There are also some impressive performances from the young cast members. Michael Legge, is delightful as 'Stephen Hammerton, a young feminine teenage boy who Shanks tries to teach to act manly when playing women! Daniel Brocklebank is also impressive as ' John Honyman ', the 'star' boy actor who was now becoming too old to play female parts and so feeling insecure about his future.
The play has received great notices from the popular press….THE EVENING STANDARD says, "The appeal of Cressida lies in its romantic, convincing evocation of theatre politics and the boys' acting and cross-dressing life." THE INDEPENDENT says, "Michael Gambon is glorious as Shank, shambling, swearing and sublimely playful. For such a large man he is extraordinarily graceful." THE DAILY MAIL says, "The great Gambon is back on the West End stage and all is well with the world." And goes on to say, "A lovely, unusual, rather special evening." THE DAILY TELEGRATH says, "It may only be April, but Cressida already looks like a strong contender for both best actor and best play awards. Excuse me while I phone my bookmaker." THE STAGE says, The most stylish and original work the West End has seen for a long time." However, TIME OUT was not too impressed saying, "There something of substance missing."
Cressida is an interesting play concerning issues from the theatre's murky past. It is both touching and entertaining and well worth seeing.