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July 5, 2017
Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, until September 2
Blanche McIntyre directs David Troughton in the title role of a Shakespearian tragedy that represents a prescient piece of programming by the RSC.
The company is adept at giving Shakespeare a contemporary resonance and Titus Andronicus is an immaculate conception in every way.
Robert Innes Hopkins’ set creates a Capitol in a Global Banking CBD with a corporate entrance and foyer behind anti-riot fencing.
Whether by luck or design, the Occupy framing is now layered with the Trump administration’s Washington and Theresa May’s Westminster.
The underlying issues of legitimacy of leadership and authority without a popular mandate loom large in this production.
The costumes, alongside military mourning and battle fatigues, range from city suits to “country” clothing, with Martin Hutson’s Sarturninus sporting a tight blue number, Assad style.
The political landscape is revealed by an opening montage of rather stereotypical hoodies and looters choreographed to the sound of choppers, sirens and Radio Rome. There are many such contemporary touches, more surefooted and knowing, from the Sean Spicer introduction of Saturninus at the presidential lectern to the Andronicus family selfie before the slaughter begins. The clown who delivers Andronicus’ message to the Emperor is very much “of the moment.” A joke I won’t spoil.
All this witty scene dressing does not diminish the horror that unfolds. I feared for some very young audience members right in the front row, attending a play whose gory reputation now comes with its own heart monitoring research.
At some moments the audience are physically engaged by the cast borrowing props - one surprised woman was handed a crying (prosthetic) baby to comfort.
It is generally acknowledged that Iago, from Othello, holds the baddie crown in Shakespeare. Here the Moor, Aaron, played with malevolent gusto by Stefan Adegbola, instigates far greater crimes.
Perhaps the multiple offences in Titus of betrayal and revenge alongside barbarism, misogyny, racism are too many for one character to personify.
Lavinia, agonisingly played by Hannah Morrish, suffers far more than any character or actress should have to. Troughton is immense in every way: physically, vocally, emotionally.
I would urge theatre-goers to put aside any concerns about the level of blood-letting in this play. In spite of the proximity of live performance and the intensity of the superb cast, the Saturday Skandi has far worse.
Fortunately this piece also has some laugh out loud lines and set pieces to relieve the tension. This is English theatre at its finest, an electrifying drama that left the audience exhilarated .
Pictured above, by Helen Maybanks: David Troughton as Titus Andronicus.
'COMPELLING ...' Katrina Deeley.
A modern comedic twist on an enthralling and gruesome tale. The compelling and complex characters within this classic tale engage and resonate with the modern-day audience..
The political overtones of this play parallel the political instability of the world today.
The comedic elements are an effective contrast with the brutal scenes which together create an exciting and truly amazing story. This really is a must see performance.
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