War, revenge, bloody hatred, mutilations, rape, murder – Shakespeare dug deep into the trickbox of human chasms. General Titus Andronicus returns home to Rome from his war against the Goths, bringing with him, as prisoners: Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her black lover Aaron and her three sons. According to tradition, Tamora‘s eldest son is sacrificed to the Gods, despite her pleas. She vows to take revenge…
Titus Andronicus, played by Stephen Boxer in the full depth of male disorientation between rigour and doubt, supports Saturninus (droll, John Hopkins) in his candidacy to be the next Emperor, also promising him his daughter Lavinia for wife. Lavinia (Rose Reynolds), however, is already secretly engaged to Bassianus (Richard Goulding), the new Emperor’s brother, whom she runs off with. Saturninus now makes Tamora his Empress. Katy Stephens, as Tamora, plays with the audience’s perception as seductively as with the Emperor’s. She instigates her two sons Chiron and Demetrius (Jonny Weldon and Perry Millward as nasty Beavis and Butt-Head characters) to murder Bassianus and to rape and mutilate Lavinia. All of that happens off-stage, but it leads to the scene that is the most difficult to bear, when Lavinia reappears, abused, without hands, without tongue. Rose Reynolds turns her body into a documentation that perhaps hits even deeper than images on the news, those from real-life atrocities.
Aaron (very subtle, Kevin Harvey, seen all the verbal abuse he is constantly subjected to, you nearly want to forgive his evil-mindedness) accuses two of Titus Andronicus’s sons of having murdered Bassianus, and he offers Titus the Emperor’s lenience in return for him hacking off his arm. From here onwards, the atmosphere turns from startled horror to expeditions into the world of splatter movies, accompanied by fits of nervous laughter from the audience. The hacked-off arm doesn’t help; Titus has a delivery of his son’s heads. There is one son remaining, he sends him to the Goths, to raise an army against Rome. The circle of revenge finds its last climax at a banquet, when Titus Andronicus serves Tamora her killed and minced sons in a pasty. A cartoon-like bloodlust finale only leaves Titus‘s son Lucius and grandson Lucius junior alive. As one member of the audience said after the show: “If it teaches you nothing else, revenge is probably not such a good idea.” Clip
It is one of Shakespeare’s very early plays, and it is not put on stage very often. For our modern minds, all that bloodshed is more difficult to bear than for audiences in the 16th century. Very nasty indeed, it would be, if the elements of comedy were overlooked in all that horror. Director Michael Fentiman, in his RSC debut, created a clever and breathtaking arc between things that we should take in and those that we can take in. Together with his fantastic cast, he puts the audience in a roller coaster atmosphere in which, admittedly, it can happen that someone gets rather pale.
Titus Andronicus will be on stage in Stratford up to 26th October, 2013
Photos by Simon Annand
also published in German on http://artyviews.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/titus-andronicus-atemberaubender-buhnenhorror/