‘One-man Titus Andronicus for Kids’ sounds like one of those joke titles you suggest to late-night improv troupes. So imagine my surprise at discovering an expertly crafted one-man show that actually pulls that off.
The production skilfully skirts past showing any of the grizzly violence of the original, instead opting for descriptions and the unfortunate implications of a mangled Victoria Sponge.
Shakespeare Untold: Titus Andronicus retells the vast majority of the traditional story through the new setting of the imperial kitchen. Our host for the afternoon introduces himself as Lovetticus, the sole worker in this kitchen, who then proceeds to colourfully recount how he acquired the role. Using a wide variety of culinary props and food as the characters for his story, the production skilfully skirts past showing any of the grizzly violence of the original, instead opting for descriptions and the unfortunate implications of a mangled Victoria Sponge. Certain details from the original are also tastefully withheld (such as the true extent of Lavinia’s assault), although most of the violence is at least explained to the children. A few were more taken aback by this than others; one girl clutched her father’s arm for the majority of the second half. However, the narration ultimately seems to have gone down well with most of them.
Tom Giles is an excellent host, giving a solid solo performance and masterfully interacting with his audience. His sense of comic timing is impeccable. Throughout the script, there are all sorts of hints, references, winks and puns for the more knowledgeable members of the audience, but he also takes great care to make sure that the children are never left behind. Having two mid-show recaps of the characters where their complicated names are reiterated and their respective character props highlighted, be it two pepper grinders or some grapes, is a well considered decision.
With this in mind, the initial setup in establishing the kitchen setting and a rapport with his audience does go on for a bit too long. It’s a fair while before the name ‘Titus Andronicus’ is even mentioned, but once things were finally established, the play truly kicked into gear. Whilst mostly rewritten, selected quotes from the original are deliciously sprinkled throughout and this is well worth a watch for anyone wishing to introduce their children to the world of Shakespeare. Alternatively, it’s well worth a watch for anyone with a penchant for vegetable violence.