Review: Titus Andronicus

Stage

Before Titus Andronicus had even begun, its audience were given a taste of the gruesome drama that was to come: the relatively bare stage was covered with a dusty looking cloth, splattered with the fake blood stains of the previous night’s performance. What followed was a fairly strong rendering of Shakespeare’s goriest tragedy, complete with some unexpected, though effective directorial choices.

The choice to keep costume and set design relatively simple proved useful, as it allowed for smaller touches to shine through as particularly effective. The additional clutter of props after the rearrangement of the set during the interval made a nice parallel with the production’s growing absurdity, and the general throng of dreary black, grey and white clothing not only complemented the miserable atmosphere, but drew attention to the use of black lipstick which was smeared from one actor’s lips to another’s. Elsewhere, credit is certainly due to the wonderful to the staging of a scene in which a character has his hand savagely cut off, a difficult task to pull off.

I certainly couldn’t have predicted the comedic take on the second half, although it was interpreted to good effect. It did mean, however, that when the lights changed suddenly to drown the stage in a dramatic red glow for the final scene, I wasn’t sure if the play was still ridiculing itself or if it had been a simple case of heavy-handedness. Nonetheless, the second act allowed for Joseph Stephenson (Titus, himself) to prove his skills as a comedic actor which, whilst enjoyable in itself, also made room for some interesting character development. In a play that opens as darkly as it means to go on, it would be easy for the energy to peak too early on and fall into a repetitive plateau. However, Stephenson’s performance helped to ensure that this was not the case with this particular production. His portrayal began sympathetic, soon became tired, then hopeless, then downright mad, before settling on a kind of empowered feigned madness.

A personal highlight of the play was Mia Smith as Lavinia, whose choked wailing during her torture scenes were genuinely distressing. She transformed from a rather docile type into the focus of the drama, and was captivating. Her performance was nicely contrasted too, in voice, costume and physicality, with Jessica Bailes’ Tamora. Alex Hill as Marcus struck a nice balance between endearing and volatile, whilst Gerard Krasnopolski’s Aaron was unnerving and powerful. Alice Moore, too, was confident and convincing in the role of Saturninus.

Other performances were less convincing, particularly those whose physicality was notably self-conscious. At some points the ensemble didn’t seem to gel together, and Bailes’ first lines – one of the first injections of desperate emotion into the play – fell flat as the action she was reacting against was fairly half-hearted.

Verdict: This unusual production of Titus Andronicus combines brutal violence with estranged comedy, and is a great Halloween watch.