By Danielle Farrow
Company Action to the Word (taking their name from Hamlet’s advice to the Players) presents a Titus that is an entertaining, sometimes hard-punching, and genuinely solid Shakespeare production with strong command of the language and some dark and bawdy humour.
The design – minimal and effective in set and coloured with black, silver-grey and red – bestows a strong style on this tale of warring factions in ancient Rome, where the theme is more about family ties and revenge than political manoeuvrings. Power plays range through warfare, sacrifice, rape, mutilation, torture (both physical and mental), murder and cannibalism as General Titus and his brood face off with Tamora, Queen of the Goths and her barbarians. The blood is there, with some very realistic depictions of actions base, but there could be more guts of the internal kind – the acting needs to cut loose.
Voices of this youngish company are clear and diction well-drilled for the most part, the meaning coming through in some fine lead performances, with particular mention of Lavinia for embodying feelings as well as thoughts. There is some over-acting in more minor roles and a bit of posturing, but this is a physically strong ensemble and there are impressive stage combat skills on show. Stage fighting requires major control and practice but must then be let loose so that it appears spontaneous and carries an edge of being out of control – this important ingredient, beautifully present in the combat, is currently missing in acting that is clear but too contained, some of this being a result of overly-controlling direction.
Dramatic and moving music, usually atmospheric, occasionally overwhelms the actors and in one important scene restricted pace and dynamism, destroying both. Some slow delivery, presumably meant for suspense, was likewise unsuccessful and overly-controlled ‘madness‘, more present in vocals than physicality, diminished an otherwise strong Titus.
In some areas, though, the direction works very well, with full cast set pieces that carry sense and action and with character, story and text which is clearly conveyed. Sly and morbid humour entertains, minimal props are very effective and difficulties in maiming on stage (hands and more are lost) are well – er – handled.
Overall the company needs to let go – the skill and understanding is there, now they need the guts to soar, putting their fine physicality into true embodiment of those clear words, really suiting the action to the word. This could earn that fourth star, and with an already strong showing early in their run, such is very possible.
3 – 29 August (not 16), 22:15 (23:35) @ C Venues – C