TITUS ANDRONICUS

Fri 9th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Lucy Wood

at 01:36 on 22nd Aug 2013

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‘Titus Andronicus’ was without a shadow of a doubt the most brutal, bloody, and brilliant play which I have had the fortune to see this entire Fringe Festival.

The production takes the original text of Shakespeare’s play and gives it the aesthetic of Shane Meadow’s ‘This is England’. The play updates the bloody world of Roman politics and familial revenge to 1980s London, when gangs stalked the streets and immigrants fought locals. It’s a violent clash: a thrilling juncture between lurid 80s culture and the Shakespearean language. An electric and exhilarating mix.

Every aspect of the play was finely tuned to shock and to take the audience’s breath away. The blaring music was used to astonishing effect, heightening and distorting even the most vicious of scenes. Particularly memorable was having Demetrius and Chiron stalk the stage, shirtless and encouraging the audience to whoop and cheer for them, to the sound of the Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’. Then they turned away and, dragging the battered Lavinia from backstage, proceeded to rape her before the audience. The shock was palpable.

It was something of a relief to see that the production, although faithful to the Shakespeare script, was never enthralled to it. The language and beauty of the original was never compromised, even with the occasional foul-mouthed interjection from the cast. If anything, this was very effective, keeping the audience listening all the more carefully.

The more tender moments of the play were also handled with great skill. The moments of grief at the unending parade of death felt raw and painful to watch; while the relationship of Lavinia and Bassianus was handled exquisitely and made their own tragedy feel all the more poignant for it. However, it was the moment where Lavinia, having returned to her family following the attacks made upon her, is made to reveal her wounds to her father, which was almost impossible to watch. The absolute wretchedness of Lavinia in that moment, and the furious despair of Titus, were breath-taking.

The play was simply astonishing and I cannot recommend highly enough that everyone should go and watch it.

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Lise McNally

at 02:49 on 22nd Aug 2013

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Hiraeth Production’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ is an astonishing production, flawless in both concept and execution. Set in the volatile underbelly of London in the midst of 1980’s skinhead culture, issues of family and race take on an even more urgent quality. Brilliantly plotted and perfectly carried out, the new setting just works—horribly, and wholly.

Through character amalgamations and shortened scenes, Shakespeare’s original has been condensed into a tightly arranged one-act performance which offers the audience no respite in the form of an interval. The stakes are high, and remain so, in a script which does incredible justice to the dizzyingly different tones of the genre-defying original.

The comic aspects of the script are deliberately drawn out, but the play make you pay dearly for every laugh—and pay in blood. The result is a turbulent emotional experience which is incredibly potent. In a stroke of directorial genius, Zoe Ford brings out the sexily shirtless rapists Demetrius (James Clifford) and Chiron (Adam Lawrence) to dance, Chippendale like, to 'Don’t You Want Me Baby'. Appreciative hoots of laughter from some of the audience turn to stunned silence when the boys drag out a naked and half conscious Lavinia (Maya Thomas). As they violate her cruelly on stage, the previously clapped-along-to lyrics take on an awful new meaning.

The tragic aspects take their turn in this terrible dance too, aided by the effervescent energy of the entire cast—all of whom could be singled out for special mention. The family rapport between the London-Andronici and the Irish-Goths is established quickly, ensuring that the audience witnesses personal tragedies, not disengaged assaults on concepts of honour and power. Although faithful to the original wording, a few small additions are extremely effective in personalising the volatile atmosphere of the play’s setting and bringing its awfulness home: swear words spat out after the new emperor declares peace keeps anger simmering perfectly, and a particularly moving exchange sees the raped and mutilated Lavinia shrink back as her uncle tries to pick her up. Hands held out, his whispered “It’s me” was enough to bring me to tears—and plenty of others along with me.

If the concept is faultless, it is executed equally expertly on all sides. The cast commit completely to the laughs, anguish and anger of this dark piece, and Martyn August’s choreographed fights are raw and highly realistic. Music is used to aid or transform atmosphere, and a simple yet acutely recognisable set leaves space for the expansive passions of the piece to take centre stage. The play is by no means easy viewing, but it is nearly impossible to avert your eyes. Brilliant and brutal, ‘Titus Andronicus’ is a must see for anyone who can bear to look.

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