Review of ‘Titus Andronicus’: “It didn’t die with shame”

Murder and revenge return to the Globe in this new production of Shakespeare’s first and most gruesome tragedy. Guillermo Nazara reviews a re-envisioned approach on this classic tale about pride and honour, to let us know what’s in store within the now blood-stained walls of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

“If an injury has to be done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared”. Machiavelli’s cold advice may have come as handy for Queen Tamora, as she plotted her perverse payback on General Titus’s for the conquer of her city. But all things Shakespeare must go a little bit more twisted for them to work – and as the new added opening song of this production warns us (or lures us, depending on your preferences), we shall be prepared for the killing of men, men, men, women, men, men, men, children and, all in all, a decadent bloodbath.

Titus Andronicus is not usually regarded as one of the bard’s greatest creations – in his defense, though, we all must start at some point. However, it does have all the elements to make of it an appreciable work of quality: a well-structured storyline (despite its pacing perhaps not being the Stratfordian at his best), a competent beginning at the stylized use of the English language and, most importantly, an interesting, even relatable (regardless of its imbrued vibe) exploration of what triggers a man’s foulest actions.

This year, the Globe opens its season with a slightly tweaked take on possibly Shakespeare’s most controversial play – its authorship, leaving the conspiracists aside (please, leave them aside – for good!) has been the subject of extensive debate. Featuring on this occasion an all-female cast (not so unusual an approach in the venue’s history), this version offers a lightened-up vision of its dramatic events while staying decently integrous to the original text. Relying on a more comedic tone to ease up the natural bleakness of the source material, that extra gleam is nonetheless a bit too bright sometimes – and though the efforts are valued and repeatedly successful, it’s not less true than that comical feeling arises a bit too often and in moments when audiences should not be supposed to laugh.

Directed by Jude Christian, the montage goes for a more symbolical conceptualization, epitomizing in a complete avoidance for the depiction of graphic violence – substituted in this case by the use of candles to represent the lives that are to be taken. With functional blocking and an enganging set design (though the choices on the costumes seem a bit more questionable), one of the greatest triumphs of this production is, in fact, its music – especially when it comes to the underscore. Brilliantly conducted by Fred Thomas and penned by Jasmine Kent Rodgman, its atmospheric and practical orchestrations and narrative effectiveness provide the whole recounting with a much worthwhile enhancement in every scene.

As for the cast, the majority of performances show both competence and good understanding and connection to the work. Among them, Katy Stephens, in the title role, is no doubt the highest mention, for her complexly layered rendition of the character – exuding both strength and determination somehow hiding a more vulnerable, human side regarding his emotions and sense of justice.

Titus may not be everybody’s cup of tea, even for those who praise the bard. It happens to be one of my favourites, though, but my shrink is already taking care of my obsessive delight on the show’s gruesome (to him) ending. Whatever the situation, and although I do prefer Shakespeare’s works to be done as thoroughly accurate as possible (the man is still called a genius for a reason), this production is worthy of a go, as its attempts to speed its rhythm up to more modern standards provide its with some breath of freshness that, though sometimes not the most correct, is still enjoyable to watch. And if you don’t like it, you can always follow the hero’s footsteps when reproaching the troupe and team (just a thought).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Titus Andronicus plays from Tuesday to Sunday until 15 April. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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