You may have noticed that there is an awful lot of Shakespeare in various theatres around the country just now – well he did die 400 years ago and the theatrical world really wants to celebrate this anniversary. I often think it would be amazing to be able to travel back in time and see one of Shakespeare’s plays being performed for the first time. OK, so that’s not going to happen but if you want to really step back in time then take yourself to the Rose Playhouse Bankside where, Titus Andronicus has returned home.
In ancient Rome, the Emperor is dead and his two sons – Saturninus (Sunny Yeo) and Bassianus (Fiona Battersby) – are arguing over who should take their father’s place. Their conflict seems set to boil over into violence until a tribune, Marcus Andronicus (Mark Curley), announces that the people’s choice for the new emperor is the deceased’s brother, Titus (Charles Sandford), who will shortly return to Rome after a victorious ten-year campaign against the Goths. Titus subsequently arrives, bearing with him as prisoners Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Laura Hopwood), her three sons – Alarbus, Chiron (Mark Curley), and Demetrius (David Couter) – and the Queen’s secret lover, Aaron the Moor (Tendai. Humphrey Sitima). Although offered the crown, he turns it down feeling he is not worthy and nominates Saturninus who, is acclaimed as Emperor. As his first act, the new Emperor chooses as his bride Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Miranda Shrapnell) who is betrothed to Bassianus. While the arguments over who marries Lavinia goes on, Titus upsets the Goth Queen by sacrificing her eldest son, Alarbus, to avenge the deaths of his own sons during the war. Distraught, Tamora and her two surviving sons vow to obtain revenge on Titus and his family. Eventually, the question of who marries whom is decided as Emperor Saturninus decides to let his brother keep Lavinia and surprisingly takes Tamora as his bride, instantly elevating her from Titus’ prisoner to his Empress. Now Tamora is in a position to extract her revenge against Titus, she sets about it and the two families are dragged into a devastating world of murder, disfigurement and rape That culminates in an orgy of death and destruction.
Well, what a fascinating and bloody play Titus Andronicus turned out to be. Although I had heard of the play, and knew it was not one of those nice quiet things that you could take your maiden aunt to, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how violent it was. The performing space at the Rose is not massive and at times, Jung Han Kim’s stylized direction means the audience are pretty much in the action with the actors. This can make the production uncomfortable to watch at times but that is a real positive in that there is no place for the audience to hide and we get to experience the story almost as much as the actors do. The cast of eight do a fantastic job playing the eleven main characters in the show, as well as the ensemble in this very physical presentation and it is great to see more gender blind casting proving that if the acting is strong enough men can be women and vice versa on the stage with no problems. A quick word about Charles Sandford in the title role. Charles is amazingly tall and stick thin but seemed perfect as the Roman General reduced from proud peacock, being hailed by the populous to a highly disturbed father out for revenge using methods that would definitely not be approved by Mary Berry.
Yole Lambrecht’s costumes are minimal – black leggings and some form of top to identify the character – and very effective lighting by Petr Vocka is very atmospheric, making the stage area seem much bigger than it really is. I’m going to admit that, never have seen the play before, I had trouble at times understanding some of the sequences but, having quickly read a synopsis this morning, I can see what the Director was trying to achieve and appreciate the directing decisions made.
As for the writing, well it is almost heresy to criticise Shakespeare but, to me, the language in Titus Andronicus doesn’t flow as beautifully as some of his work, And, let’s be honest, by the end, as the mutilated and bloody body count rises, you get the feeling Will was not necessarily in the ‘best’ frame of minds when he wrote this one. Having said that, this production was really mesmerising and there is definitely something special in seeing the show at the Rose Playhouse, which adds an indefinable something to the whole experience. To sum up then, Titus Andronicus is a very disturbing play, with scenes that really are the stuff of nightmares, but this production by the Luvas theatre company is slick, well thought out and presented and everyone associated with it should be really proud of what they have achieved in bringing Titus Andronicus home.
Review by Terry Eastham
This new production of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is presented by New York-based company Luvas Theatre and London’s Time Zone Theatre in association with the Rose Playhouse. It will be directed by South Korean director Jung Han Kim, who trained with renowned The Living Theatre in New York, and will devise the play using original and new text, movement and sound.
The production is part of our Contemporary Shakespeare season, a project that brings together artists from different countries to explore new ways to approach Shakespeare. Performances will take place in London and New York City this summer.
CAST in alphabetical order
Fiona Battersby – Bassianus / Ensemble
David Couter – Demetrius / Lucius / Ensemble
Mark Curley – Marcus, Chiron / Ensemble
Laura Hopwood – Tamora / Ensemble
Charles Sandford – Titus Andronicus / Ensemble
Miranda Shrapnell – Lavinia / Ensemble
Tendai, Humphrey Sitima -Aaron / Mutius / Ensemble
Sunny Yeo – Saturninus / Ensemble
TITUS ANDRONICUS at the Rose Playhouse, Bankside from 5th – 30th July 2016. The press night is on Thursday 7th July at 7.30pm (running time: 90 minutes).