Titus Andronicus

As avid Arden-readers will know, Peter Brook wrote an open letter to Shakespeare in 1957 “giving us full marks for saving your dreadful play”. Poor old Titus received such a bad press during the 20th century that Action to the Word are performing a noble deed repopularising this long-neglected tragedy. But for all the blood and verve of this production, it took a good while to kick into gear.This production has some excellent moments, and Spencer-Jones’s direction was clear and coherent. The script was cut to the strengths of the cast – tending towards an emphasis on the more visceral moments over reflection through text. This helped create a near-Elizabethan pace, with scene changes non-existent and masque employed to distinguish between the movements within the play rather than indicating the end of individual scenes. Running time is a universal problem with fringe Shakespeare, and although this pace was maintained, we lost most of Tamora, some of Titus (including “I am the Sea”), and Aaron’s fantastic reflections on villainy. We also lost the illustration of Ovid’s Philomel when Lavinia demonstrates how she was raped and murdered, which made that scene difficult to follow, with its resolution abstractly coming from nowhere.An entertaining spectacle this certainly was (the Tarantino-esque torture porn and Lavinia’s blood-stained knickers were particularly ‘enjoyable’), but the strengths of the production rested on only a few notable performances. Thomas Christian made a strong Titus (modelled fairly closely on Christopher Eccleston), with support in the form of Stevie Raine, who made an excellent sneering Demetrius; a performance which deserves to be seen.The theme from 28 Days Later should definitley be cut from the rape scene (especially considering it drowned out Lavinia’s pleas), but all in all this was an enjoyable, bloody hour and twenty – certainly one of the more entertaining Shakespearean offerings this year.

Reviews by Ben Blyth

Performances

The Blurb

Celebrated theatre company revive classic five-star sellout tragedy. Cannibalism à la carte. Book your table for a bloodbath of Roman proportions. 'Inspired... totally horrific' (ThreeWeeks). 'Executed with real flair...' (List). 'Brutally real, violent and horrible' (Wharf). www.actiontotheword.com.