The York Shakespeare Project
Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York
The York Shakespeare Project is, of course doing every Shakespeare play, in as near to chronological order as possible, over a period of about twenty years. I cannot, I confess, think of another reason for doing Titus Andronicus. This is the young Shakespeare trying to out-Webster Webster: "So you brandish a heart on knife? I'll have two sons served up in a pie! Yah! Boo! Sucks!"
Yes, it is interesting from the historical point of view and there are flashes (but no more than that) of what Shakespeare was to become, and it fits perfectly into the revenge tragedy genre so popular at the time, but, apart from doing it as part of the entire WS canon, there are many, many more not-often-performed Shakespeare plays more worthy of the afforts involved in a production.
York-born David Bradley played the part recently for the RSC. I ended my review of that production thus: 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.
The YSP have a good stab (deliberate choice of double meaning here!) at it, though. Giving it a Far East setting was a really interesting idea, which, because it upset the audience's Roman preconceptions, made us look on the play with fresh eyes. All credit, then, to director Paul Toy.
And all credit, too, to the cast. Like all YSP productions, the cast of Titus is a mixture of experienced and inexperienced actors, of young (14 is the youngest) and older, with - as usual - some people who have never been onstage before (including BTG reviewer J.D. Atkinson whose arm - but nothing else - appeared in the last YSP production, The Comedy of Errors). Director Toy has brought out the best in his actors.
There are weaknesses, of course, but the principals gave a good account of themsleves. David Parkinson is far too young to be the father of 25 children and the revered elder statesman of Rome, but he has a good voice and his diction was a joy to listen to. Tim Holman's Saturninus was silly, petulant and vicious in true Caligula fashion and Judith Ireland's Tamora was both sensuous and evil. Unfortunately her whisper was not a stage- but a true whisper, and so she sank into inaudibility occasionally; apart from that, it was a nicely-judged performance.
It always seems to me that Aaron is the best part in the play - certainly it is the one which gives the greatest scope to the actor - and John Sharpe took all the opportunities the part offers. And I enjoyed Beverley Chapman's Lavinia: as with Cordelia in Lear, it's easy for the actress to slip in insipidity but Ms Chapman avoided this trap and her Lavinia had a certain bite.
After a bit of shaky start with Richard III (which was more down to direction than performance, I think), the York Shakespeare Project is certainly doing the Bard himself and the reputation of amateur theatre (for the actors are amateurs, even though director Paul Toy is a pro) a great deal of good.