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Titus Andronicus Presented by Acting Gymnasium

Is there such a thing as too much stage blood? The thing about Titus Andronicus, or at least this production of it, is that there’s so much death and yelling about death in the opening scene that one is tempted to feel that there is nowhere else the show can go – the most critical of critical incidents has happened, the title character (Michael Claff) is bemoaning the loss of some of his sons, and it isn’t long before swords (well, pocket knives, technically) are being drawn.

Titus Andronicus presented by Acting Gymnasium. Aryan Chavda as Aaron and Melanie Carss as Tamora.
Titus Andronicus presented by Acting Gymnasium.Aryan Chavda as Aaron and Melanie Carss as Tamora.

And yet there are moments of relative calm that come along, even if most of them involve a degree of plotting and scheming as to what to do and who should be dispatched with next. An eye for an eye is the main line of thinking for most characters, with pleas to spare one’s life being almost inevitably met with derision in this dog-eat-dog world. There’s an awful lot of eye shadow being worn, and costumes are largely either black, brown or grey, with perhaps only Lavinia (Anastasia Fedotova), Titus’ daughter, dressed in white.

But if a white dress is symbolic of purity, the plot has it that it isn’t sustained for very long. The sons of Titus go into battle and either win or lose. Lavinia, had the play been written and set in contemporary times, might well have done the same. It might, I would imagine, be possible to reposition this play in modern-day London, given the amount of knife crime that goes on (the Acting Gymnasium, putting on this production, once re-set a different Shakespeare play in a Camden nightclub). As it is, Lavinia is treated terribly – to put it mildly.

There is some gender-blind casting going on, with Titus’ brother Marcus Andronicus played by Lucy Williams, and one of his sons, Mutius, played by Zoe Cooper. Interestingly, despite multiple mutilations, including one sustained by the title character, there aren’t any trigger warnings in this production, and (without giving too much away) the gorier bits were gruesome enough to draw gasps and shocked reactions. It seems to have found the right balance between portraying death and destruction and keeping the audience fully conscious: nobody fainted at the performance I attended.

Purists will, no doubt, find much to grumble about – maintaining the iambic pentameter of each and every line spoken in verse has never been strongly emphasised by the Acting Gymnasium, giving their actors free rein to deliver dialogue with suitable conviction, and in their natural accents, the capital’s cosmopolitan nature being gloriously reflected in a London production for a London audience. Rattling through the five acts at a fairly brisk pace, there are so many deaths that it’s a surprise there’s anybody left at the end, the body count in this show giving certain action movies a run for their money. Some deaths, particularly those of a nurse (Dayna Shuffle) and a messenger (Dora Csapo) are bizarre and frankly unfair.

The set can hardly be accused of being overdone, though it is suitably sparse and brutal, going well with the bleak storyline. The production embraces the play’s fierce savagery whilst giving some nuance to the dialogue. A curious and intriguing experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Acting Gymnasium returns to the Tower Theatre with a new imagining of Shakespeare’s tragi-comic early work.

Titus Andronicus, Rome’s most honoured general, returns from wars against the Goths with their queen, Tamora, her sons and her lover, Aaron the Moor, as captives. When her eldest son is sacrificed by Titus; she vows revenge.

Cast includes:
Titus Andronicus – Michael Claff
Tamora – Melanie Carss
Aaron – Aryan Chavda
Lavinia – Anastasiya Fedotova

Directed by Gavin McAlinden
Set and Costumes by Esme Solomon

Titus Andronicus
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Acting Gymnasium

Monday 8 – Saturday 13 January 2024

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