By Danielle Farrow
It is fascinating to note that the blurb for this production is actually spot on, just another indication of the very high standard achieved by the Smooth Faced Gentlemen and their work, for this Titus Andronicus delivers on their claims for it:
“A vibrant and visceral retelling of Shakespeare’s bloodiest, most underrated tragedy, uncompromisingly wrought by an award-winning, groundbreaking all-female Shakespeare troupe. Two families intertwine in a brutally farcical tale of revenge. Fast, fresh, furious … and funny.”
Against movable screens and a floor covered in plastic sheeting, armed with paint brushes and buckets of red paint, the cast pound with fine physical gusto through this bloody tale of revenge, torture and betrayal, while also achieving moments of true pathos and drawing out a great deal of humour. There are strong performances, real changes to characters and mood, and attention to detail in both acting and props.
The tribune Marcus was very strong emotionally; Tamora retained softer qualities that beautifully highlighted the chill of her need for revenge; Aaron the Moor – after initial scenes where some words were unclear – came into his own once holding his child and bringing witty delivery to sardonic humour; the different brothers – both imperial and Goth – drew belly laughs; the eventual revelation by Lavinia of her attackers successfully combined humour and pain; and Titus’ style particularly suited the latter part of the play, once he has ‘not another tear to shed’. The whole company swapped roles with great ease and accomplishment, with the doubling/trebling, etc. of characters effective and, at points, used to entertain, along with the screens which allowed silhouettes for some scenes, aiding the playing of multiple parts as well as the comedy.
The mix of wit, broad humour and terrorising mutilations is well handled, keeping audience members on the edge of their seats through both laughter and horror. The detail of what amounts to choreography in the flow of characters and scenes impresses, too, with only one section – when the new emperor seeks to marry Titus’ daughter – being a bit unclear, at least to someone expecting certain action, being somewhat too condensed from the original.
Smooth Faced Gentlemen have produced an innovative Titus Andronicus that is indeed ‘vibrant and visceral’, ‘fast, fresh, furious… and funny’, with far too many entertaining and thrilling elements to be described in any detail here. Go see for yourself!