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Sep 28th

There Will Be Blood - Titus at Stratford

By G.D. Mills

Titus Andronicus - Williams Shakespeare
Stratford - Swan Theatre
16th May - 26th October 2013

Titus Andronicus
, an early product of Shakespeare’s youthful imagination and certainly his bloodiest, revolves around revenge in all its gory forms. There is rape and dismembering (not something you can talk about if you’ve had your tongue cut out), live burials, wholesale familial butchery followed by cannibalism. Lacking in the subtler intellectual qualities of his later work, part of the fun of this play is seeing how these acts of barbarism are dramatised, in the hope (certainly in my case) that the stage will descend into nothing less than a glistening bloodbath. Starting out as a mere trickle at first, director Michael Fentiman carefully calibrates this flow of blood so that it slowly widens into a gush, then a river, and finally a gloriously choreographed cascade of bloodshed – what a way to end a civilised dinner party! - in the final scene.

 The army of Imperial Rome, led by general Titus and his multiple warrior sons, pitches itself against the savage Goths and their Queen, Tamora. When Titus slays one of the Queen’s sons before her, things become personal. This play explores the notion that violence begets violence; that those nurtured in the rhetoric of revenge become locked into an all-consuming behavioural pattern that extends into perpetuity. Thus does the young Lucius (played by boy actor Hew Hewetson), brought up in a vengeance obsessed household, so powerfully end this production as his little hands raise a dagger above the body of a newborn.

Rose Reynolds as Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. Pic by Simon Annand
Michael Fentiman recognises the unremitting nature of the plays’ brutality and tempers it with humour: in fact, this is a very funny production even in the midst, and sometimes because, of the hyper carnage. John Hopkin’s Saturninus, for example, plays a bungler of an emperor in a constant state of alarm. The dispute over who should lop off their hand in exchange for Titus’ ransomed sons descends into the realms of farce, and Titus’ rapid untangling into an almost Learesque madness offers up moments of comic senility. Stephen Boxer’s Adronicus presents us with a before and after portrait of a proud figure pulverized by grief, the latter portrait, for my money, more developed and far richer than the first.  

For all the cleverly teased out comedy, there are still moments of terrible power: the image of the beautiful and disdainful Lavinia after her brutalization, for example, her broken body curled and quivering on the forest floor, a ribbon of crimson curving from her tongueless mouth. The temporality of the setting is left deliberately open, thus emphasizing the timelessness of the theme. A sense of the contemporary weaves itself into the action:  Kevin Harvey’s Aaron, though pitilessly evil, is a disturbingly modern figure, replete with dreadlocks, urban tattoos and Liverpudlian accent. Similarly, Jonny Weldon and Perry Millward play Chiron and Demetrius as instantly recognisable youths, delinquent hoodies with attention deficit issues and a fixation on short term gratification.   

Titus-Andronicus-2013-8-541x361boxer.jpg  Stephen Boxer as Titus in Titus Andronicus. Photo by Simon Annand

The play concludes in a state of despair: no hope, no sense of jubilation at vengeance wreaked, however brief; the brutality will only cease when there are no bodies left to butcher. We file from the auditorium in silence, Aaron’s final hideous denunciation ringing in our ears:

If one good deed in all my life I did
I do repent it from my very soul.  


Ticket Hotline
0844 800 1110 
16th May - 26th October 2013

Sep 16th

The Filthiest Comedy Ever Written

By G.D. Mills

A Mad World My Masters - Swan Theatre, Stratford 
(6th June – 25th October)

Bawdy, licentious, just plain dirty (though wittily so), these are just some of the epithets I might readily apply to Middleton’s largely disregarded Jacobean play. The director describes it as ‘about the filthiest comedy ever written’, and indeed to brave the performance is to submit oneself to a relentless barrage of salacious slapstick, double entendre and explicit sexual tableaux.  

Ellie Beaven as Mrs Littledick  Photo by Manuel Harlan

Performed, punnily enough, on the Swan Theatre’s ‘deep thrust’ stage, A Mad World My Masters is a city comedy, an historical sub-genre which revelled in depicting London at its most scheming, cynical and depraved. Dandy Richard Follywit and his ne’er-do-well accomplices devise increasingly outrageous ruses to rob his stinking rich Uncle of his fortunes; Mr. Penitent Brothel concocts a devious scheme by which to cuckold Mr. Littledick , and prostitute Miss. Kidman uses her tasty wares to pump everyone around her for cash. This is a mad world, a morally bankrupt world, in which everyone is out to screw everyone else.

Sean Foley’s production transfers the action to 1950s Soho, cleverly reverting to a Jacobean setting at the fancy dress party in the final scene. Subtly edited for a contemporary audience, we are treated to a number of topical allusions and meta-jokes, a style in keeping with the spirit of the original. The ever-fluid scenery, ingeniously devised by Alice Power, transforms before us from the interior of a seedy nightclub (modelled on the infamous 1950s Flamingo Club), into a Soho backstreet, an East end cafe, a boudoir, a study, a bedsit and various rooms within an opulent townhouse. No scene is static, the plot hurtles along, and a seam of physical farce runs through the whole piece. Here we find the kind of dextrous visual trickery readily associated with the long running West-end production of The 39 Steps.

Ian Redford as Sir Bounteous Peersucker. Pic by Manuel Harlan

There were lusty performances all round, notably Richard Durden’s unfeasibly decrepit rendering of Spunky the superannuated butler, Ian Redford’s affably perverse Sir Bounteous Peersucker and Ellie Beaven’s cunningly coquettish Mrs. Littledick. Accompanied by a live band, Linda John Pierre’s honey voiced 1950s jazz scat punctuates and leaks into a number of the scenes, lending to the production an authentic nightclub ambience.


Mad-World-2013-14-541x361.jpg  The final scene in rehearsal

The denouement involves the exposure of everyone’s Machiavellian machinations, though no one seems to mind that much. The final tableaux, in which the entire cast of twenty two end up huddled together in a state of spent exhaustion, nods towards the happiest of orgiastic resolutions. This is a spicy dish, sizzlingly served: if you think you can withstand the heat, book your table at the Flamingo Club now.

Royal Shakespeare Company  - 6th June – 25th October
Box Office 0844 800 1110



May 22nd

Mythical Creatures unleashed in Malvern

By G.D. Mills

sorchamudman.jpgIn the recently converted theatre space at Malvern’s Re-con venue, fifty children found themselves transported five thousand miles across the Atlantic to historical Central America. Taking them there was Sorcha Cummins, with her newly formed one-woman TIE performance of The Popol Vuh - ancient Mayan for ‘Book of the People’. The question is, how much diversion and variety can you cram into a forty minute educational show?  Ms. Cummins, who trained in puppetry with internationally acclaimed theatre company The Fetch, seemed determined to find out.

With her wild black hair, patchwork sequinned coat and feathery hat, the eccentric story-telling narrator demanded our attention from the outset. Assisted by a range of ingenious props and painted masks we were introduced to the indigenous people of ancient Guatemala and their fantastical creation myths. The young audience were hypnotized by the range of skilfully manipulated puppets, most of them wonderfully grotesque, including an insect guzzling mud monster, a spindly stick skeleton and a slavering bejewelled dragon. There were shrieks of laughter as the puppets convulsed and jerked to resonant tribal music, and eyes widened at the lifelike movements of the Mayan boy through whose vision several of the myths were told. Even for those too young to understand there was more than enough riotous colour and evocative world music to engage them.

sorcha stickman.jpg

The performance is designed primarily to offer Key Skills learning opportunities for primary school years 3-6, and can be combined with creative tailor-made workshops to extend cross-curricular understanding.   Given the number of children who flocked excitedly around the story hunter to ask questions after the show, I could only conclude that the intention to inform and inspire had been successful. This free début show may have come to an end, but for Storyhunter Theatre the story has only just begun.

Performances are ad hoc and Midlands based. 

Parents and teachers wishing to find out more can visit Sorcha’s website at