Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Globe

(2006)

Review by Philip Fisher

After the querulous start with Coriolanus, Dominic Dromgoole's reign at the Globe really moves into top gear with another unfamiliar view of Shakespeare.

Director Lucy Bailey and her partner, designer William Dudley, have come up with a beautifully-judged entertainment that balances gore, (melo)drama, rich comedy and even some poetry, much to the delight of the audience.

The story of the grizzled, haunted, old warrior Titus Andronicus is remarkable. Following his arrival carried by no fewer than eight slaves, he soon establishes his credentials as a dark, tragic hero. This is a man who announces early on that "For two and twenty (dead) sons I never wept" but, before his own end, has wept enough tears for all of them, as well as three more and a daughter.

The intrigues centre on two warring creeds, the Romans led by Patrick Moy's ineffectual Saturninus and the Goths by his bride, the constantly scheming Tamora. This latter combative tribe of savages is heavily tattooed and has no sense of morality.

The violence reaches its peak with a degree of black humour following the rape and mutilation that leaves Titus' daughter Lavinia shorn of hands and tongue. Played with great feeling by Laura Rees, this innocent, virginal beauty struggles on, reliving the fate of Ovid's Philomel, until she can help her father to gain revenge. By this time, he is also one-handed after a noble but futile gesture that gives him remarkable scope for brave punning.

The evil is piled on as both Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her "ravel-coloured love" Aaron the Moor delight in inflicting pain for its own sake. Both actors, Geraldine Alexander and Shaun Parkes, appear to relish the opportunity to portray pure devilry and so does their audience, or at least those that aren't too squeamish.

William Dudley ensures that the groundlings remain intimately involved throughout. The man who pioneered computer-generated sets in The Coast of Utopia and holograms in Hitchcock Blonde proves that he has not forgotten the basics.

Here, he drapes the theatre in black, with a canopy over the pit and a dusky backdrop. Even the pillars are covered like Victorian piano legs. If one ignores the plentiful flow of blood, colour is primarily injected by the costumes.

The space is well-used, as two wheeled platforms convey actors through the Pit, which also contains its own Pit to swallow up another body or two. Those groundlings near to the stage get more than their fair share of exercise during their three-hour stint.

Neither Shakespeare nor this creative team spares the audience. Blood flows freely and limbs are hacked off with gay abandon. The play builds to a fine and noble, if inevitably gruesome, climax as Tamora is fed son's head pasties prior to four more deaths and the ascension of Titus' last remaining son to the throne.

While all of this must sound bloody, in every sense, there is a fair amount of humour, with Douglas Hodge in the title role at his best as Titus plays his own Shakespearean post-interval clown; and Chris Emmett sharing in the fun as a bibulous plebeian.

It is some years since the Globe had as enthralling and engrossing a production as Lucy Bailey has provided. This may all be melodramatic and the plotting can get silly in a Hammer Horror style, but all concerned, including the players of Django Bates' atmospheric music on such instruments as the näverlur, the rommelpot and the fujara, should be proud of their achievement.