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Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe

Titus Andronicus is not usually a comedy, it is usually a bloody, villainous and vengeful tale, but tonight it is a comedy and a rather amusing one at that. Jude Christian (Director) and the nine members of the all-female cast weave together the plot of betrayal, backstabbing and blasé violence.

Sophie Russell as Marcus and Katy Stephens as Titus. Photo by Camilla Greenwell.
Sophie Russell as Marcus and Katy Stephens as Titus. Photo by Camilla Greenwell.

Titus Andronicus is not perhaps what you might call an ‘A list’ Shakespeare, perhaps known more for its drama school audition than as a frequently staged piece. It is in essence an increasingly violent tale of politics, initially satirizing the hierarchy and facades of court courtesies before breaking forth into indiscriminate bloodshed, leaving very few on their feet by curtain call.

The election in Rome was an affair of great stakes, tensions run high. The people want Titus Andronicus, the victorious returning general, to assume the seat of emperor. Andronicus unexpectedly denies this honour, instead giving way to Saturninus, from there, plots of deception, rape, and the murderous ascent to power leave the stage smeared with blood.

The play is lit by candlelight alone, each candle representing a life, so as the play goes on, more people die and it gets increasingly darker (get it?!). This design choice is interesting, more so than having blood splatter everywhere. But something is lost in the lack of bodies onstage, a physical representation of the sheer destructiveness of political violence. That being said, the candles are almost a statement of intent for how committed Christian is to that low, commedia dell’arte approach of clowning, caricature and satire. This approach is a strength, and opens up the ridicule of politics, exaggerating to great effect the cartoon characters of politics, so in a sense, it is a very traditional interpretation of a classic political commentary. I am sure I don’t need to spell out the wider contemporary relevance of a story of unruly, self-interested politics, and that is certainly an integral component of the piece.

My criticism of this piece comes in the comedy, and partly how good it is. The play is consistently very funny, there is great comedic chemistry rife amongst the cast, and they play off each other brilliantly. However, the play is unavoidably dark, and heinous things happen in the almost three hours onstage. Therefore, when the comedy paused for dark and evil revelations, it felt totally out of kilter with the rest of the goings on. I am not trying to sound pious, Shakespeare is excellent for riddling terrible stories with comedy, but they have to blend into each other, one challenging the other and playing with the audience. This gestures towards that, but the scenes seem to have a switch, either they are comedy or it is a tragedy, rather than the tragicomedy it could have been.

3 Star Review

Review by Tom Carter

After a brutal 10-year battle, honoured Roman general Titus Andronicus embarks on an era of bloodshed when he refuses to show mercy to the eldest son of Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Betrayed by his nation, and with his family in ruins, Titus seeks justice the only way he knows how – tooth for tooth and limb for limb.

As the candles burn and the bodies pile up, director Jude Christian (Dark Night of the Soul, Nanjing, Globe) explores the macabre madness that takes us to the edge of humanity.

Introducing the Titus Andronicus cast & creatives
Daneka Etchells – MUTIUS / LUCIUS
Kirsten Foster – TAMORA
Beau Holland- BASSIANUS / QUINTUS / MARTIUS / A FLY / NURSE / MIDWIFE / CLOWN / AEMILIUS
Mei Mei MacLeod – CHIRON
Lucy McCormick- SATURNINUS
Georgia-Mae Myers – ALARBUS / LAVINIA
Sophie Russell – MARCUS
Mia Selway- DEMETRIUS
Katy Stephens – TITUS
Kibong Tanji – AARON
Cello – Francesca Ter-Berg
Musical Director, Harpsichord and Percussion – Fred Thomas
Oboe – Uchenna Ngwe
Trombone – Hilary Belsey
Assistant Director – Indiana Lown-Collins
Choreographer – Arielle Smith
Co-Designer – Rosie Elnile
Co-Designer – Grace Venning
Composer – Jasmin Kent Rodgman
Costume Supervisor – Sian Harris
Director – Jude Christian
Globe Associate – Movement – Glynn MacDonald
Head of Voice – Tess Dignan
Lighting Designer – Ali Hunter
Seasonal Voice Coach – Katherine Heath
Song Writers – Liv Morris and George Heyworth

Titus Andronicus
1 FEBRUARY – 15 APRIL
SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE

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