In Declan Donnellan's 2008 production of Troilus and Cressida for Cheek by Jowl, Helen of Troy (Marianne Oldham) initially featured as the Face that Launched a Thousand Copies of Hello! Magazine. Decked in a chic white evening gown, she delivered the play's Prologue while stalking with feline satisfaction among the soldiers who would die for her (illustration 48). Later, she and Paris primped and posed for a series of glamour photos, looking for all the world like a Shakespearian Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. When Pandarus began his song, 'Love, love, nothing but love', Helen proved her star power by joining her voice with his, offering, one critic asserted, 'the best singing of the night'. At this point, however, something surprising happened. The song's lascivious words seemed increasingly to disturb her; her voice began to tremble, her eyes filled with tears, and by the end of the song she had to pause to compose herself. Soon the mask cracked altogether and she broke weeping from the stage. The audience had witnessed Helen's transformation from a plastic icon into a psychologically complex 'character' in the realist tradition.
Depending on one's perspective, such an approach to Helen may appear either self-evident or thoroughly wrong-headed. Some version of realist acting informs most mainstream American and British productions of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Its shaping force guarantees that many actors and directors will explore the inner objectives and past histories that drive their characters' words and actions, creating complex emotional subtexts to flow beneath the complex Shakespearian text. Moreover, many audience members will judge the resulting performances as much or even more in terms of the richness, plausibility and clarity of their implied emotional narratives as in terms of any relationship to the literary play-text. Yet this process has come under increasing fire from scholars, who have branded it ahistorical, apolitical and insufficiently conscious of its own tortuous relationship to the perceived authority of the Shakespearian text.