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Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare
RSC at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle
(2003)

Modern scholarship, we are told, has established that Shakespeare did not write the whole of Titus Andronicus. It was partly written, we are further told, by one George Peele, although no one knows whether they collaborated, or Shakespeare completed an unfinished play, or he was asked to do a re-write. Whatever the "collaboration" was, the play certainly does not see Shakespeare at his best.

And I don't say that because of the Grand Guignol subject matter: mutilation and murder are not uncommon - and there is nothing as horrifying and brutal as the gouging out of Gloucester's eyes in Lear - and even the baking of Tamora's sons into a pie is not beyond possibility in Shakespeare. After all, it was a mainstay of the story of the House of Atreus in Greek myth, with which he would have been familiar.

It is the language which, to me at any rate, is not Shakespearean. Peele is supposed to have written the beginning of the play, which is very rhetorical and high-flown, and one has to say that there are more longueurs in the first half, and in particular in the first act, than later, but at no point does the language reach the heights we expect of Shakespeare. There are some good bons mots but nothing that works directly on the emotions as do so many speeches we could all reel off. Certain events do, of course - Titus' killing of Lavinia being the most obvious example - but the genius of Shakespeare lies not in dramatic events but in the language, and the language of Titus Andronius is thin, lacking the density and emotional impact of his best work.

No matter how good the production may be, it will inevitably be a less than satisfying theatrical experience. And so it proves here. Director Bill Alexander, with great support from designer Ruary Murchison, lighting designer Tim Mitchell, composer Jonathan Goldstein and sound designer David Tinson, have created a very atmospheric production and the cast give their all.

David Bradley's Titus and Maureen Beattie's Tamora contrast well and John Lloyd Fillingham as Saturninus, a very physical actor, makes a wonderfully Caligula-like figure (with more than a touch of John Hurt!), but the acting crown has to go to Joe Dixon as Aron, the Moor, although it has to be said that he has the advantage of having the best part in the play for an actor to get his teeth into!

But taking into consideration all the creativity of the production and the quality of the acting, the audience is left feeling let down, and that is down to the play itself.. It's not a play that's often done, and it's easy to see why. Frankly, if the talent and resources of the Royal Shakespeare Company can't make it into a gripping piece of theatre, then probably no one can.

Steve Orme also reviewed this production at Stratford

Reviewer: Peter Lathan