Shakespeare's Globe, London
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Lucy Bailey
Much like General Titus himself, Lucy Bailey’s production of this most bloodthirsty of Shakespeare’s works, makes a glorious and triumphant return to Shakespeare’s Globe. Under Bill Dudley’s black and oppressive velarium spread atop the yard space, the groundlings are spared blistering sunshine, but remain exposed to the pouring rain, which on press night only added to the ghoulish horrors of the ghastly tale. Guttural percussion and pungent incense assault one's senses on entering the Globe’s performing space and even before the players take to the stage, this production hints at being a festival of Shakespearean fun.
The classic story is driven by the vengeance that Tamora, the Goth Queen and Titus her conqueror, wreak upon each other's families for the various acts of murder, rape and mutilation that their children have suffered. Around these tribes and fuelling their appetites for revenge, Aaron, Tamora's Moorish lover, spins a web of lies and deceit that adds to the body count. Whilst the horrendous rape and disfigurement of Titus’ daughter Lavinia occurs offstage, nearly all the other carnage occurs in full view of the audience. For those who like their literature served bloody, this play truly is a rare treat.
Lavinia's rape is evil and Flora Spencer-Longhurst puts in a moving performance as the victim, pleading to Indira Varma’s Tamora woman to woman that she should call off sons Chiron and Demetrius from ravishing her. Elsewhere in the play however, and as can be so often the case with horror, there is much comedy. When Tamora gives birth to a mixed-race baby, conceived illegitimately with Aaron, the proud father boasts to her shocked legitimate sons. When they accuse him of having “undone” their mother, he retorts “I have done thy mother”. Obi Abili convinces as the malevolent Moor and deftly extracts a deserved guffaw from the crowd. Some of the play's comedy is occasionally overplayed and Matthew Needham’s Emperor Saturninus is at times just a little heavy on the Kenneth Williams style antics.
William Houston plays the wearied Titus well. Rome’s loyal servant, he comes close to losing his mind as he witnesses the terrors that befall his family, though in the play’s final scenes, adorned in chef’s hat as the Bard instructs, his serving up of the pie in which Chiron and Demetrius have been slaughtered and baked, is delivered with relish. One should also give a nod to Brian Martin and Samuel Edward-Cook's performances as the errant young Goths, destined to fill Titus' infernal pasty. Their final scene before Andronicus slits their throats is excruciating to watch. Suspended by their ankles for what is probably five minutes but seems an eternity, their ultimate despatch comes as a blessed relief to the audience.
Ian Gelder is a wise counsel as Titus’ brother Marcus, though it is also largely through this play's creative team that Bailey has also achieved her success. Django Bates’ music, haunting trumpets and relentless drums, suggest a world of violence and discord. Terry King, arguably one of the greatest fight directors, choreographs the mayhem with aplomb whilst Pam Humpage’s make-up effects go a long way to convincing us that the onstage horrors are for real.
If you can stomach violence (and 13 people were spotted being helped from the auditorium during act one alone) then Bailey's production truly is Shakespeare for the people. The yard space is used to the full as the groundlings become Rome’s plebeians and the bacchanalic splashing of wine over the squealing crowd only adds to the merriment. Shocking, upsetting and at times hilarious, this Titus Andronicus is bloody good Shakespeare.
Runs until 13th July 2014