Sunday 2 June 2013

Titus Andronicus

Swan Theatre, Straford Upon Avon


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Fentiman

Stephen Boxer and Rose Reynolds
If the RSC’s Titus Andronicus were a DVD (which it damn well should be, but that’s another story) it would sport an 18 certificate, with the warning “contains scenes of extreme gore and violence”. This production actually deserves a further rubric: “contains scenes of outstanding acting and visionary design”.

Michael Fentiman’s production messes with our mind as costume and design take us on a Back To The Future ride, blurring the 1950s and Saturninus’ gorgeous pinstripe suit, with the downright medieaval as Tamora dons wolfskin: head, teeth and all, to portray Revenge. This review will not outline the plot – a synopsis can be found on the RSC website (link below) and to describe too much of how this freakish story is told, would only spoil.

Stephen Boxer as Titus is masterful. He conveys the nobility of a decorated and battle hardened General, who notwithstanding his love for his family, puts duty above all. When his loyalty to Rome is abused by the new Emperor and his wife, Boxer’s interpretation of that snub gives an added dimension to the plot. His final scene that bears more than a nod to kitchen queen Fanny Craddock, is a Tarantino inspired episode of Come Dine With Me.

Tamora, the Goth Queen, is a smoulderingly lustful display from Katy Stephens. Rarely is a Shakespearean MILF so wickedly portrayed, and Stephen’s performance does not disappoint. By contrast, Rose Reynold’s Lavinia brings a fragile fragrance to the production. Her character’s arc takes her from fair, prized beauty to violated mute victim, almost Cordelia like in the tragic fondness that evolves between her and father Titus. It is hard to believe this is Reynolds’ debut season at the RSC and she remains a talent to look out for.

John Hopkin’s Saturninus is a leader who claims his authority solely based on heredity. His subtle portrayal of a nice-but-dim man, in charge of a powerful empire, has chilling echoes of a world where even today a dictator’s son can take over from his late father.

Jonny Weldon and Perry Millward as Chiron and Demetrius are feral, hoody-wearing scum, who ride BMX bikes onto the stage in another chilling comment on the world today. Their offstage acts of rape and violence are so abhorrent that when we witness their being slaughtered, the revenge is so satisfying that one could cheer. Their on-stage deaths are as brutal as their crimes and these two young actors, also company debutants, deserve a nod for the physical extremes of their performances, being suspended above the stage, upside down by their ankles, for what seems like an excruciating eternity

Katy Stephens bites off more than she can chew

The final treat of the night (though all the cast excel, to a person) is Kevin Harvey’s wickedly evil Aaron. A Scouser with a massive presence and a beautifully weighted voice to match. That I was reminded of the Narrator in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers during his monologues, should only be taken as a compliment ( Did you hear the story of Tamora’s twins…..?)

Fentiman makes a classy impression with this his first production for the RSC and he has well exploited the design genius of Colin Richmond and the trickery of illusionist Richard Pinner. Titus Andronicus is a play typically produced on the fringe with a shoestring budget and relying on no more than good acting, inexpensive props and gallons of stage blood. So to see in this version the RSC invest expensive world-class technology into making the show soar, is an absolute treat for theatregoer and practitioner alike.

The only preparation for seeing this play is a tolerance of extreme gore. If you can stand the sight of blood, then travel to Stratford and enjoy this fine collection of individual and company performances. At times funny, often tragic and downright bloody brilliant.

For a synopsis of the play, prepared by the RSC, click here

Read my feature on Titus Andronicus and interview with director Michael Fentiman here

Runs in repertory to 26 October 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment