David Levin talks The Testament of Cresseid

This article is from 2009

David Levin talks The Testament of Cresseid

Yasmin Sulaiman talks to the renowned Israeli director helming a production adapted from a 16th century Scottish poem

Robert Burns might be the subject of many Homecoming events this year, but Jonathan Mills’ decision to focus on the lesser-known Scottish poet Robert Henryson as part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s 2009 programme could prove a rewarding one. Directed by David Levin, Israel’s most famous theatre-maker, and performed by celebrated Scottish actor Jimmy Yuill, The Testament of Cresseid adapts Henryson’s 1590 poem of the same name – a pre-Shakespeare take on Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde – for the stage, the first time that the work has been professionally performed.

‘Jonathan offered me a script of The Testament of Cresseid,’ Levin explains, ‘and I was absolutely astonished because I’m not Scottish. I told him I would only do it if I found a theatrical way to do so because what’s the sense in reciting an old poem? We come to the theatre in order to share a certain experience and not to be lectured at. It’s quite a challenge to take a poem like this and to try to turn it into a moving experience that an audience of today can share.’

Despite its tragic plot, Levin is convinced that the piece – adapted from Henryson’s plain Middle Scots – will appeal to modern viewers and part of this success can be attributed to his casting of Yuill in the primary role. ‘It’s a huge part and a huge challenge, but I didn’t want a so-called star,’ he says. ‘Jimmy Yuill is someone that I’ve worked with before and I think he’s a fantastic actor. He’s the kind of actor that injects great humanity into whatever he does.’

And while he claims to be very pleased with the results, the director is unwilling to accept recognition for the production’s existence: ‘I think this idea of adapting the poem has been in [Jonathan’s] mind for a long time. He was trying to find something that belongs to this country, written in this country, and had never been done professionally before. I give him all the credit.’

The Testament of Cresseid, The Hub, 473 2000, Sat 29 Aug–Sat 5 Sept, 8pm, £17 (£8.50).

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