Titus Andronicus – Shakespeare Globe Theatre – Review

Titus Andronicus – Shakespeare Globe Theatre – Review
by Pat Levy

Running time Approximately 2 hours 45 minutes including an interval
This event is on-site in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

‘Not another tear to shed’

Halfway through Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the titular protagonist stands holding the severed heads of his two sons and falls about laughing —  having ‘not another tear to shed’. This moment, in a play where 14 grisly murders are played out on stage, seems to have been the inspiration for a production in the small but almost perfectly formed Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank.

The small stage, lit only by candlelight and bare but for two vats supposedly containing wax, bursts into song and dance as the ten women who make up the cast, dressed in Kim Jong-Il-type pyjamas and barely distinguishable from one another perform a rollicking tune entitled ‘Men killing men killing women killing…’  you get the picture. The last production of the play here led to mass walkouts as audience members could not deal with the carnage portrayed on stage but these women deal with the murders by snuffing out the candles held by each victim. Murder methods are varied: hacked to pieces by a cleaver, stamped on, chopped up and put into a blender, melted with a blowtorch and, in the final death scene, simply snuffed out as each cast member takes on one character role after another, so quickly you barely notice it till it’s over.

It’s not all done for laughs. Poor Lavinia, raped, mutilated, her tongue and hands cut off, lends a distressing tone to the antics on stage and throughout there is a dissonance between the passions portrayed by the actors and the silliness of the way the production deals with the blood bath. All the minor parts, including a very sentient fly, are played by one actor whose soft west-of-Ireland lilt comes into its own as she performs the parts of the two sons of Titus. One lies alone in a pit (the stage floor) with the body of the king’s brother (a candle) and the other stands above him (on a table pulled on to the stage for this purpose).

A strange half-time song about a rabbit’s filial cannibalism and a final chorus of the ‘men-killing-men-killing-women’ song ends the evening with a reminder that having watched these racist, murderous, vengeful people do each other in, we can all go home feeling better about our own crappy lives. When every time you read the news another man has killed someone, these women with their pyjamas, candles and plaits are making a serious point.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is one of the two theatres that form Shakespeare’s Globe. The Globe Theatre itself, the one modelled on the theatre built in 1599 by the acting company that Shakespeare belonged to, is about to launch its new season of plays.

For information and booking of tickets, see Shakespeare’s Globe.

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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