This was my first time seeing a production of Titus Andronicus, and at the time of writing, this is the only way of experiencing genuinely live theatre. It takes some getting used to – this is a production performed by way of video conferencing. But some things don’t change, including unexpected challenges that bring proceedings to a halt – the tech gremlins crept in periodically, leaving an introductory section truncated, and the deployment of a swing when someone’s microphone momentarily stopped working. Seasoned theatregoers will have sat through longer and more severe interruptions.
Staging Titus Andronicus would appear to be challenging in any event. Here, the stage directions at the top of each scene are read out – and the one at the beginning of Act II Scene IV particularly interested me: “Enter […] Lavinius, her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out, and ravished”. How exactly does a production company depict that? All I will say here is that The Show Must Go Online do it convincingly enough.
There’s an aspect to online productions like this that comes as close to the pre-show and interval conversations with other theatre patrons as it could be: the use of the chat function on YouTube, which in this case occasionally proved almost as entertaining as the proceedings proper. Someone even apologised for logging on late, only to be told by someone else that, unfortunately, he could not be seated until the interval, but he would be welcome to enjoy a drink in the bar in the meantime. It’s that sort of banter that, although quite juvenile in some ways, helps bring a sense of community at a time of lockdown and social distancing. This series of productions has other ways of ‘audience participation’, if I may call it that: for instance, some audience members had made (or otherwise bought) pies to eat at an appropriate moment in the final scene.
A conscious decision was made to use more guns than knives in this production – the stage directions in Act V Stage III, for instance, do not stipulate how characters are killed. The immediate shock factor was evident, even if it gave the production the feel of a Quentin Tarantino movie like Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. The use of props is inventive, with some thought even given to how props would be ‘passed’ from character to character, in this case from screen corner to screen corner.
The cast is drawn from both sides of the Atlantic, with many retaining their natural accents – and those playing Goths doing so by dressing as though they were ‘goths’ in the modern interpretation of the term, as opposed to the Germanic tribe that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire, leading someone to comment, “Get that [The] Cure album ready”. Some valiant and determined attempts at dramatization through gestures and facial expressions as well as varying camera angles and fake blood made this far more than a ‘reading’ or a ‘read-through’ – ‘semi-staged’ would probably be more accurate.
With a relatively large cast who all performed so well, it is difficult to pick out stand-out performances, though Michael Bertenshaw in the title role performed with much passion and pathos, while Tiffany Abercrombie’s Lavinia acted brilliantly despite not (for reasons made clear in the narrative) having much to say. Wayne Lee’s Saturninus had an enthusiasm that couldn’t, in my view, be faulted. This sort of production is not, I must admit, necessarily something I would want to continue pursuing once the theatres reopen but as (at the time of writing) that is unlikely to be for some time, this is an excellent and enjoyable way of engaging with the power and beauty of live performance.
Review by Chris Omaweng
TITUS ANDRONICUS Michael Bertenshaw
AARON Mark Holden
MARCUS ANDRONICUS Julia Walker Wyson
TAMORA Tricia Mancuso Parks
SATURNINUS Wayne Lee
LUCIUS Jack Baldwin
DEMETRIUS Charles Sloboda-Bolton
BASSIANUS Mark Hammersley
LAVINIA Tiffany Abercrombie
CHIRON Matthew Rhodes
YOUNG LUCIUS Emily Millwood
AEMILIUS Shamiso Mushambi
MARTIUS / ATTENDANT Clark Alexander @ClarkAlexander4
QUINTUS / THIRD GOTH Joanna Lucas
ENSEMBLE 1 Toni Benedetti-Martin
ENSEMBLE 2 Natalie Harper
ENSEMBLE 3 Ross Martin
ENSEMBLE 4 Sophie Max
SWING 1 Tamara Ritthaler
SWING 2 Dannan McAleer
Director: Rob Myles
Text Editing: Dan Beaulieu
Casting Director: Sydney Aldridge
Stage Manager & Master of Props: Emily Ingram
Fight Direction/Stunts: Yarit Dor & Enric Ortuno
Sound Design: Adam Woodhams
PR: Kate Morley
Associate Producers: Natalie Chan, Matthew Rhodes
Guest Speaker Curation: Ben Crystal
Social Media: Lucy Aarden
Infrastructure Support: Dr Ed Guccione, Dr Kay Guccione
Zoom Provided By: Paraffin Ltd