HeadLock Theatre’s production The Tragedy of Titus shifts Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus into the setting of a modern Romani travelling camp, with bare knuckle fighting the source of honour rather than Roman wars. The original play follows the titular general through his triumph in war to the humiliation, mutilation and destruction of himself and family members at the hands of the Queen of the Goths, Tamora, and her people, with all that the Goths gain and lose as well.
This adaptation leaves Tamora’s motivation for revenge weakened beyond reasonable believability, harming the show somewhat, and the initial scene is extremely confusing because what you see and what you hear does not gel, twisting relationships between characters away from Shakespeare’s lines and making Tamora’s final plot even less credible than it already is in the original. This is heightened later by little attempt being made to make Titus seem mad enough, or even drunk enough, to fall for her tricks.
Overall, however, this production works well. Modern clothing suitable for movement keeps visuals fairly dark, with touches of colour, and basic lighting supports without drawing attention. The play is drastically cut to fit only 55 minutes, but the changes that were initially forced fall into place and allow such trimming. Only towards the end are lines mangled to fit narrative purposes, but that slips by quickly, and the language is handled fluidly by most, with an energy that keeps things clear and moving along well. Though a couple of actors were having trouble with their voices they did not let this impede audience understanding though there was some less clear speech, mostly from hyper-speed delivery by one performer – thankfully this did not continue throughout.
There is an impressive physicality to the production – only a few times did the contact improvisation and acrobatics seem meaningless – and the bare stage was filled well whether in crowd scenes or with just a single character visible. Tortures were dealt with physically, shocking without becoming overly graphic in their showing, and the revelation of what had been done to Titus’s daughter Lavinia was moving, well-acted by her, Titus (strongly performed throughout) and his son. There are other moments of deep feeling in the production, along with physical sets that bring a strong dark energy.
The Tragedy of Titus is a strange brew with some fine ingredients well served up and the most is made of the energy of its cast. Not all aspects of the adaptation help the clarity of story and character, but Headlock Theatre’s production manages to form its own shape, one that can take its place in this year’s Fringe Shakespeare with pride.
15 – 20 August, 17:50 (18:45) @ theSpace on Niddry Street