The 24-year-old Mendes made his RSC debut directing this acclaimed production featuring Ralph Fiennes and Amanda Root in the title roles and Simon Russell Beale as a memorable Thersites.

A young soldier in uniform and a young woman in light dress cling to one another passionately
Troilus (Ralph Fiennes) prepares to part from Cressida (Amanda Root), 1990, the Swan Theatre.
Photo by John Haynes © John Haynes Browse and license our images


A young Sam Mendes, directing this his second-ever Shakespeare, created an arresting and blisteringly funny production. Mendes described the play as "an orchestration of dissonances" and explained how he differentiated the opposing forces: "what became clear during rehearsals was the deep loathing of the Greeks for the Trojans. In Classical myth, the Trojans, ancestors of the British, were pale-skinned as opposed to the sunburnt Greeks" Robert Gore-Langton, The Times, 30 April 1990. In the production, the Trojans were attractively clean-shaven while the Greeks appeared more grizzled and less well-groomed.


The production worked well in the intimate Swan Theatre, where designer Anthony Ward created a striking set consisting of a rear climbing frame set against the backdrop of an enormous head of Apollo. A circular pool appeared occasionally, used by Cressida and Pandarus to paddle and gossip, and by the Trojans to wash their swords ceremoniously. A net curtain was drawn across the rear wall to represent Achilles' tent. The design was a mixture of the modern and the classical, from anglepoise lamps to ancient-looking helmets.


Anthony Ward has designed several RSC productions including The Alchemist, The Winter's Tale, King Lear, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream (for which he won an Olivier Award for Best Costume Designer), CymbelineThe Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,  Twelfth Night, The Secret Garden and Imperium.


Ward's designs for Sam Mendes' Troilus and Cressida were a mixture of styles and influences. His costumes ranged from khaki tunics and classical armour to tanktops. Ajax (Richard Ridings) resembled a breastplate wearing skinhead and Achilles (Ciaran Hind) looked like a sinister hoodlum. Pandarus (Norman Rodway) sported a jaunty striped blazer while Thersites (Simon Russell Beale) wore a grimy mac and leather helmet "like a blend of decaying dosser and dying sheep" Benedict Nightingale, The Times, 27 April 1990.

In the following gallery you can see more examples of Anthony Ward's set and costume designs.

Costume design sketch showing Thersites dressed in mac, helmet and black-patch and Ajax as skinhead with whip and fancy leather boots
Anthony Ward's costume designs for Thersites (Simon Russell Beale) and Ajax (Richard Ridings), 1990, the Swan Theatre.
Designed by Anthony Ward © Anthony Ward Browse and license our images
Theatical poster for Troilus and Cressida 1990 showing a starry sky, a Roman numeral dial and a blurred female face



Swan Theatre

Simon Austin - Antenor

Richard Avery - Calchas

Simon Russell Beale - Thersites

Michael Bott - Helenus

Alfred Burke - Nestor

Sally Dexter - Helen

Mike Dowling - Aeneas

Ralph Fiennes - Troilus

Michael Gardiner - Menelaus

Shura Greenberg – Paris’ Servant

Ciaran Hinds - Achilles

Lloyd Hutchinson - Alexander

Paul Jesson - Ulysses

Griffith Jones - Priam

Paterson Joseph - Patroclus

Sylvester Morand - Agamemnon

Richard Ridings - Ajax

Norman Rodway - Pandarus

Amanda Root - Cressida

Julie Saunders - Andromache

Linda Kerr Scott - Cassandra

Grant Thatcher - Diomedes

David Troughton - Hector

John Warnaby - Paris




Directors – Sam Mendes

Designer – Anthony Ward

Lighting Designer – Geraint Pughe

Music – Shaun Davey


The RSC's archive is held at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. You can visit the Library and Archives there to look at production related information, including photos, videos of shows and stage management documents:

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive homepage

You can search the RSC catalogue here: 

RSC performance database

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