Titus Andronicus is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. It returned toThe Globe Theatre this summer, showing from 24th April to the 13th July. The audience was hooked from the beginning and as the acts passed, I found myself falling for some and hating others. With the sound of drums, two pivotal characters, Bassianus and Saturninus, argue over who should take over as Emperor due to their father’s passing. The victorious Titus Andronicus walks on stage, triumphant over a war with the Goths and dragging along four captives – Tamora, Queen of Goths and her three sons. Titus is hell bent on making them suffer due to the deaths of his sons, which inevitably leads to a vicious cycle of rape, murder and mutilation. This fantastic adaptation revisits Lucy Bailey’s 2006 Globe production and it’s better than ever.
Immediately, the audience is greeted with a fantastic cast line up and these are just a few of those wonderful faces:
William Houston’s revival of Titus Andronicus is memorable and a lovely highlight of a brutal but excellent play. With his vibrant and energetic movements, his fantastic ability to convey emotion through speech, brilliantly versed in Shakespearian, he brings this flawed character to a whole new level. Houston pays special attention to Titus’ hysteria and reminds any Shakespeare academic of the “gleefully deranged King Lear” as Lyn Gardner, The Guardian so rightly points out. With his hysteria and high pitched singing voice, the audience cannot help but love him, resulting to fits of laughter despite the morbid scenes playing out in front of them. Through all the torment and horrors he has faced, in the end he finds justice and is able to dish out his revenge on those who have wronged him.
Indira Varma’s portrayal of Tamora is perfect as she plays on the character’s cruelty, manipulative nature and even throws the audience jokes. Varma tricks us all into thinking Tamora is an innocent woman who has been taken from her home, however, she is the complete opposite. Vindictive and harsh, she plots right from the beginning. Not only does Varma bring Tamora’s brutality and cruelty to light, she also shows her intelligence and cunning attributes.
Bassianus in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is a noble and likeable character. He is able to win the hearts of those around him and was one of my favourite characters. Played by Steffan Donnelly, Bassianus is shown as a charismatic and intelligent character who fights for what he wants. Donnelly is able to win the audience over with his love for Lavinia, his ability to emotionally connect to the crowd and his excellent acting. He is a character you wish had a different end.
Dyfan Dwyfor plays Lucius, an honourable man who helps his father achieve justice; he is a character you side with from the start. You want them to win. You want him to win. Dyfan adds a powerful spark to Lucius, making him both strong willed and soft hearted when it comes to his sister. The audience falls for his charm, wishing him on and agreeing with every word he says, through his anger, his pain and misery. Dyfan’s acting brings a great character to stage, more likeable than ever.
Matthew Needham plays Saturninus, an easily persuaded, emotional and excitable character. Saturninus is a character who is not as liked as those above; you either feel anger towards him or sympathy. Those who feel anger towards him see him as a man blinded by love for an evil and vindictive woman, a person who cannot see what is happening around him and therefore, someone who is easily manipulated. Those who feel sympathy for him see that he is quite childlike and helpless; it is not entirely his fault. Matthew Needham brings both sides of this character to stage, making the audience laugh at his childish actions – his jumping up and down, side jokes and his use of strange noises. Needham also highlights Saturninus’ need to rule and the power that he holds, even if it is taken from him to a certain degree by Tamora.
Finally, Flora Spencer-Longhurst plays the innocent Lavinia, earning the audiences love and sympathy. Her character is one everyone wishes would’ve had a happier ending. No one deserves what happened to her and Spencer-Longhurst plays her beautifully. Firstly, her powerful voice and ability to stand up for herself and husband is something that is well liked. She is not a woman who cowers; she fights her case, even if she ultimately loses. Throughout the play, you find yourself agreeing with her decisions and when she suffers, you wish you hadn’t seen it. The harrowing and haunting scene that reveals her after her torment leaves you feeling sick and angered. You want justice for her. Spencer-Longhurst moves the audience with her performance, making them cry and gasp at what they see and finally, making them hate who did this to her.
Furthermore, the stage design by William Dudley wraps us in darkness to represent mourning and the horrors that are about to unfold. The music by Django Bates evokes emotion of the highest degree, making this play one to pull on every string you own. We are spared from none of the gore. Lavinia is shown after her mutilation and rape, her tongue and hands cut off, covered in blood and shaking from her torture. Previously in Shakespeare’s time, death or drastic acts of violence were not shown on stage, however here our eyes are shown it all. Characters are killed on stage in horrific and unthinkable ways, body parts are discarded as if they are were nothing and blood covers the wooden floor. Thankfully, no one fainted but it is fair to say that there were faces of shock, horror and fear, as the audience’s hearts were pulled left, right and centre.
In spite of this, the play was funnier than ever. Most of Shakespeare’s plays have ‘comic relief’ scenes, where you have subplot characters who are there to relieve the tension, while having some part in the play’s focus. In Titus Andronicus these scenes are not as prominent, so it is up to the cast to lift the mood through their acting and interaction with the crowd. When the cast wink at the crowd, speak directly to an audience member, share secret jokes and their cunning plans with us, it helps to diffuse the tension that has built up. In addition to this, Houston uses Titus’ hysteria to his advantage with dances, prances and a frequent singing voice. The comic banter of Tamora’s evil sons, Chiron and Demetrius, has the audience in fits of laughter. Saturninus’ childlike behaviour and Tamora’s quirky comments seem to soften the bloody blows that occur throughout the play. There’s even a lumbering nature messenger with pigeon’s flying around and an old drunken man who spills his drink on the crowd. Therefore, despite fearing for your favourite character’s life in one scene, in the next you’re laughing hysterically.
Due to all of this, there is a real difference in watching a play as opposed to reading one. When watching a play the characters come to life, emotions are expressed and personalities shine through. Facial expressions, speech and body language all help to bring the characters to life. Actions such as hugs or fights mean a lot more on stage than they do in writing. Everything seems real, you’re more emotionally attached to your favourite characters and you’re able to see them as people, rather than just words on the page. We feel as if we are part of the play, especially when the cast interact with us by means of speech or action. There’s no separation between the eye and action, blood seems real, death seems real. It was definitely both a fantastic play and experience, so go along to The Globe Theatre, trust me when I say, you’ll leave feeling scarred but oddly elevated.