(Published on ARTSCLASH)
We’ve all had awful dinner parties. I, for example, tried to do an incredibly ostentatious gateaux to finish a dinner party once, but forgot to put flour in the cake mix. Nightmare. But if you think you have had dinner party problems, spare a thought for Titus Andronicus, whose humble attempt to get revenge on the queen by serving her a pie made out of flesh of her two sons ends in a bloodbath of epic proportions. Think ‘Come Dine With Me’ directed by Tarantino.
This is just one of the ridiculous things that happen in the play Titus Andronicus, currently playing in London’s Globe Theatre. Hands are cut of. Then another hand is cut off. Then someone has to carry that hand in between their teeth. It takes a talented director and very talented actors to pull this play, which many call Shakespeare’s worst, off. It’s exceedingly difficult to stop this play from just being an exceedingly bloody pantomime – Aladd(covered)in (blood), say. But the Globe has totally pulled it off.
That’s not to say this production isn’t bloody. Oh no. There’s no attempt to stylise any of the violence. Blood spurts across the stage so frequently someone had to come and mop up the stage during the interval. Particularly gruesome is the scene when we come across Lavinia, who has just been raped, her tongue and hands cut off. Some productions have tried to recreate this with scarves, with ribbons. Not this one. Lavinia enters covered head to toe in gore, retching blood. It’s a genuinely powerful and unsettling image which had at least six people in the pit stone cold fainting. I can only imagine how lethal it’s going to be down there when it starts to get hotter. The casualties in the audience could be worse than those on stage.
This in fact is the only drawback of an intensely cleverly done and well made piece of theatre. A lot of the play takes place in the audience pit as part of this play’s fantastic use of space. However, what’s going on in the audience, as medics have to rush in every few minutes to carry another person out, can be incredibly distracting from what’s happening on stage. This is especially true when processions of the cast make their way through the audience, having to weave around fallen bodies. In some ways it helps enforce the message of violence in the play. However, if you’re going to see this play I’d recommend keeping yourself hydrated and braced for blood so you don’t have a crowd of people irritated that you’re distracting them from one of the best pieces of Shakespeare you will see for a long time.
Titus Andronicus runs until July 13.