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There Will Be Blood - Titus at Stratford

Published by: G.D. Mills on 28th Sep 2013 | View all blogs 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


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 4 years ago
    Thanks, Geoff. A review as dramatic as the production itself!
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