Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare’s Roman-clad gore fest Titus Andronicus returns to Shakespeare’s Globe for those of us who are lovers of bloody violence done up in elegant prose.
William Houston (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; Elizabeth: The Golden Age) is magnetic in the title role; his interpretation of the Bard’s imagined Roman general strikes the right balance between war-weary, melancholy and blood-thirsty lunacy, while Indira Varma’s (Game of Thrones; Rome) revenge-mad Gothic queen Tamora is deliciously devious – prancing about the stage like a wicked witch, sewing seeds of conspiracy together with her lover Aaron (Obi Abili) and two sons (Samuel Edward-Cook and Brian Martin).
Lucy Bailey’s direction skilfully strikes the right chord between the play’s morbid mix of tragic melodrama and mad comedy, managing to keep the audience’s attention for three hours, despite the theatre’s uncomfortable seating and the evening’s single intermission. The theatre space has been dressed like an gladiator’s arena, with the stage covered in black fabric, gloomily lit up by an oculus – recalling the Pantheon in Rome, seemingly evoking a dark pit – a hell-hole were all the murderous activity has free range to connive and kill.
Other honourable mentions go to Flora Spencer-Longhurst for her portrayal of virtuous, dainty Lavinia, who later, blood-drenched, accentuates the gore with constant, trembling ticks upon losing her hands and her tongue; and talented character actor Steffan Donnelly, who is both romantic Bassinius and the comic bird-seller, both of whom meet grizzly ends. Such gratuitous, explicit violence coupled with moments of lightweight comedy would be difficult to translate to screen; onstage, however, such an odd relationship is much more acceptable due to the heightened, exaggerated medium of live theatre.
The iconic Peter Brook production from 1955 starring Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh made use of blood-red cloth in order to symbolically evoke the death that abounds in the story; back in the heyday of Elizabethan theatre, Shakespeare’s audience would have been exposed to such blood-letting on an almost daily basis. Now, when – as the director explains – society seems to be “reverting to (a) currency of violence” – the symbolic strips of blood have been replaced by the actors spitting “real” blood on the stage floor and hands and heads cut off gleefully before a happily horrified audience.
This new production may not be one for the kids, but is an enthralling and wonderfully ghastly rendition of one of Shakespeare’s less-known, yet timeless historical plays.
Photos: Simon Kane
Titus Andronicus is on at Shakespeare’s Globe until 13th July 2014, for further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for Titus Andronicus here: