Titus Andronicus

Shakespeare's most violent and harrowing play has been given a 1980s London twist by Hiraeth Productions at this year's Fringe; it works so well it becomes hard to pull the two concepts apart. A leather couch draped in an English flag grounds us in a London flat for each dramatic scene, comparing the great power of the Roman Empire, to the empire of the streets of London. The similarities in respect, revenge and honour are surprisingly resonant, as skinheads take the role of Roman soldiers, Moors are Jamaicans and Goths by ethnicity become goths of subculture.

The Emperor Saturninus alone is suited up, much like a drug lord in composure and dress, as well as being the only one in possession of a gun, suggesting his superiority of power and means more than anything else.

The shocking violence of both Titus Andronicus and turf wars complement one another, as the extremity of Shakespeare's play parallels the extremist political and racial views much associated with revival skinhead culture of the 1980s. Music from the period is injected to excellent effect, conjuring an image not only of the era but of the jarring styles of the goths and skinheads.

Hiraeth are to the best of my knowledge true to the original script, save a few modern profanities, which cut through the elevated English with great impact. Such interjections feel only natural in response to the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, carried out to the upbeat synthpop of Human League, which in its place is extremely sinister. Most painful of all is her being discovered by her brother; the stream of red from her muted mouth is more distressing than any death in the play could be.

The temptation to use gallons of blood in this most bloody of plays is resisted, and hence can be seen in a peculiar way as tasteful; both as a high-minded performance of gang wars, and a hugely expressive production of Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus is faultless and horrifying; a test to your moral strength as well as your stomach.

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The Blurb

This Is England meets Shakespeare in Hiraeth Artistic Productions’ gritty and aggressive take on one of his bloodiest plays. Shakespeare’s classic tale of war, revenge, honour and rivalry is transported into the underbelly of 1980s British skinhead culture.

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