By Veronika Kallus
The program description of this Hiraeth Artistic Productions’ adaption of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play Titus Andronicus promised an intriguing change of setting. From ancient Rome the piece was said to be brought to 1980s British skinhead culture.
The play lends itself to relocation into a violent place or time. In the original, Titus’ son is killed during war with the Goths, and their queen Tamora’s eldest son is killed as a sacrifice subsequently. Tamora and her two remaining sons are brought to Rome and swear revenge. A cycle of violence, rape, gruesome murder and deaths comes into motion. Revenge follows on revenge and blood spilling harvests only more blood.
In this version, Roman robes are replaced by shaved heads and combat boots. The emperor wears a business suit and the Goths – well, they do look somewhat neo-gothic. The first scene provides a believable 1980s extremist atmosphere, ragged and bare and desolate – but unfortunately after that, the relevance, the relation to the 1980s is lost.
The players get deeply engaged in the story itself, and external stimuli like music – which could have worked as a poignant scene setting catalyst – are rare. The play develops as if it was set in its original frame. Visually staging a violent, bloody play like this is not easy, especially when only few probs can be used. This production relayed on trying to make gruesome scenes look like real, rather than inventing metaphors – which restrained the production quite noticeably in being fully innovative and inventive and often held scenes in a lukewarm stasis.
This doesn’t take away from the quality of the story and the actors, who, for the most part, are excellently casted and suited to their roles. Especially Liam Mulvey as Marcus Andronicus and Maya Thomas as Lavinia are memorable. The clear diction, plain stage and especially the classifying costumes untangle the play and make it easy to follow the complex array of people and their positions.
Altogether a difficult play – to stage and to watch – but worth seeing if one takes it for its original relevance and urgency, rather than expecting a new, modern value to be added to it.
Titus Andronicus – Hiraeth Artistic Productions is on at The Space at Surgeon’s Hall August 2nd – 24th (not 4th, 11th., 18th) at 8.40pm