IT’S FAIR TO say that, in terms of renown, Titus Andronicus does not rate highly on the list of Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed, in contrast to the precise, air-tight later tragedies that keep him at the forefront of the world’s literary imagination (such as Hamlet and Othello), Titus is messy, chaotic and filled with continuity errors.
Despite this, the play has seen a slow revival over the last sixty years. This is due, in part, to the fact that audiences have become desensitized to violence in our lives and on our stages (although its fourteen deaths will still make you queasy). However, it is also due to its central depiction of a powerful social structure crumbling to nothing has become applicable to how we view our own political and social systems in the modern day.
In Blood, Sweat and Tea’s production, Titus is set seventy years after a nuclear apocalypse. The Rome of this play is not the capital city of the Roman Empire but a settlement of survivors in the United Kingdom. Even this gives the audience a sense that the characters of Titus are in a state of pretence, tricking themselves that the rubble surrounding them is as grand and imperial as the original Rome.
Alongside this, the costumes work well to give a sense of a social order out of control. Some characters could’ve come straight from the set for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (bowler hats and all), while others don the kind of neo-punk attire so prevalent in Alex Cox’s adaptation of Revenger’s Tragedy. This adds to the sense of lawlessness present throughout the play; here is a social system totally and utterly corrupt, one that can only be fixed by the ultimate destruction brought about by the events of the play.
However, the key to any successful Titus production is its cast, who did a fantastic job of balancing the dark madness of the play with its absurd humour. These two parts conjoin most clearly within the character of Titus towards the climax of the play, with Owen Watts doing a wonderful job of capturing the hilarious and frightening elements of his hunt for revenge. Jessica Gittins and Jacob Hume play a wonderfully smug rendition of Lavinia and Bassianus respectively, avoiding the trap of portraying them as the natural ‘good guys’ that some productions do. This makes Gittins’ performance – seen mainly in the second act – of a Lavinia brought to her lowest even more extraordinary. Monet Mitchell did a lovely job as Aaron, portraying one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters with the kind of vengeful rebellion of Milton’s Lucifer. Having Aaron played by a woman reinforced the character’s role as an outsider, suggesting Aaron’s villainy is rooted in rebellion against a patriarchal, white society clinging to its traditional structures of power and privilege. The entire cast, however, should be extremely proud of their excellent handling of a challenging script.
Overall, this is as good of an amateur production of Titus as you’re going to get. The adaptation was well-thought out, nicely executed and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s here till the fourth of February, so get your tickets while you can!
Titus Andronicus is on at Arad Goch until Feb 4th.