What is Shakespeare’s ultra-violent tragedy Titus Andronicus without its grotesque maiming, abuse, and cannibalism? In Jude Christian’s stripped back take on the play, the answer seems to be ‘not a lot’, though that alone doesn’t make for a strong enough sell here.
At it’s opening, we’re given a hilarious musical number which mocks and manages our expectations. “This is the Globe, not HBO”, they sing, and suggest all the death and bloodshed unfolding in the following infamous play might make us all feel a little bit better about our “miserable life”. Swapping the violence against human characters for the destruction of many wax candles (whereby we, at times, must chillingly imagine the full scale of the damage inflicted), this Titus – to an extent – appears to call out the audience for expecting a gore fest of “men killing men killing women…” before seemingly arguing that death is inevitable and comes for us all. The first argument is provocative and pointed; the second blunts the former and serves as a far less cynical conclusion.
There are obvious metaphors in the play choosing to cover lost limbs in wax and more specifically, chop up candles: light versus darkness is an easy one, and the flame reflecting the fire in one’s soul is another. The latter idea is intriguingly imagined when Titus reflects on the mass killing of her (for The Tempest’s Katy Stephens leads a company of women and non-binary actors with bold brilliance) 20+ sons in battle, staring into the candlelight in a moment of deep reflection, grief and sorrow. Not once do tears or water put out the fires – perhaps fitting considering just how little catharsis revenge really offers us.
It’s also explored in Aaron’s (performed with powerful, twisting physicality by Kibong Tanji) address to a tinier candle representing his mixed race son. It’s a curious depiction of soul-searching which could have been employed further along Titus’ catastrophic collapse.
Other standout performances include Beau Holland (who gleefully prances across the stage as several short-lived characters and can nail a pigeon impression – no further context needed), and Jenni Maitland, who was delightfully amusing as a disinterested and sarcastic Saturnius, made all the more impressive by the fact she was reading from the script due to Lucy McCormick’s indisposition.
It is an impressive performance from the whole company, and if I were to rate the show on the acting alone, then another star would be warranted, but ultimately I was left impatiently waiting for the next dramatic death to spur things on a little, with everything in between being more casual than cutting. Perhaps I’m the kind of audience member being called out for approaching this Titus with such an expectation, but I most definitely am one who desires a punchier message behind the show than lightly questioning the necessity of violence and musing on mortality. Unfortunately – and somewhat unbelievably for a typically brutal play such as Titus Andronicus – I was left with the sense Christian could have closed in more on the meat behind her non-violent vision.
Titus Andronicus is now playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 15 April.
A second captioned performance is scheduled for 1 April. Relaxed performances will take place on 28 February and 8 April, while audio described performances are scheduled for 4 March and 14 April.
Production Images: Camilla Greenwell.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Titus Andronicus’ for free in exchange for a review of this performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.