Titus Andronicus at the Barbican
The extreme gore of Titus Andronicus, not the best or most well-known of Shakespeare’s plays in any case, can make it hard to take seriously. The RSC’s production, transferring to London after its premiere in Stratford-upon-Avon earlier this year, negotiates the overblown violence with skill. Updated to the modern day, and fitting it astonishingly well, it is by turns comical and macabre.
The first half, in which weary general Titus (David Troughton) watches his family crumble around him, drags in places, and it’s in the second half that things really get going, as the deaths pile up in Titus’s quest for revenge. Blanche McIntyre’s production finds something relevant to our contemporary world in the scheming and sleazy politicians, and the way the personal dramas of Rome’s leading figures play out in front of an audience, both that of the imagined Roman people and the real one sitting in the theatre. The production mocks its own overblown violence at times, which is a relief, or it would quickly become too much. There are moments of the show that work less well, such as some strained audience interaction, and an overly long dance-fight opening that quickly grows stale, but it also plumbs depths of pathos and drama. There’s genuine horror here too. The scene where Titus’s daughter Lavinia (Hannah Morrish) is brutally raped is particularly hard to watch, and so is her uncle’s bumbling and unintended insensitivity when she is found mutilated, her tongue and hands cut off and her clothes around her knees. Lavinia in this modern version becomes the archetypal silenced woman, an emblem of so much more than just the violence she is personally subjected to.
The brutality of the piece feels very male – it’s driven by manipulative people, mostly men, who long for some kind of power. Aaron merely seems to revel in the chaos, and for Saturnine it’s political power that he longs for, but it’s the power over one’s enemies that revenge brings, and which Tamora and Titus long for, that really drives the violence. The ambiguous ending highlights the futility of this endless cycle, and this male-dominated play turns out as a sharp critique of stereotypical masculinity.
The cast all give excellent performances, particularly Troughton, who holds it all together through his character’s half-real, half-feigned madness, and Stefan Adegbola’s unapologetically cruel Aaron providing some excellent villainy to suit all the blood. Less successful, perhaps, is Patrick Drury’s Marcus Andronicus, by turns wooden and irritatingly over-acted. It’s rare to see as good a modern dress production as this, and despite some dull moments and occasional poor and ineffective verse speaking, the play is really made to deliver.
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Titus Andronicus is at the Barbican Theatre from 7th December 207 until 19th January 2018. For further information and to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Titus Andronicus here: