Titus Andronicus Review

New Wimbledon Studio Theatre, 20th October – 14th November.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

“A couple of chaps are mutilated and beheaded, another is stabbed and thrown in a pit. And to cap it all, some queen is made to eat her children baked in a pie… it’s hardly a comedy!”

Those words from Theatre of Blood, the glorious camp-fest of the best Shakespearean deaths (fab film for a wet autumn afternoon), are what made me read Titus Andronicus in the first place. It is my favourite play, and I think Aaron is the greatest villain ever written. Yes, it is violent and bloody, with political and personal vendettas that still resonate today in our world of tit for tat air strikes, honour killings and acid attacks, but above all, the whole thing is as mad as a box of frogs. And that’s why I love it.

So my heart sank when I looked at the programme and saw that Marcus Andronicus was now Marcia. What else would they be changing? Thankfully, not much. Perhaps the director thought that a female Andronicus would help balance out the power and make the Andronici less militaristic and cold hearted? Or maybe there just weren’t enough male actors in the company? Either way, Cornelia Baumann is an excellent actress, but the gender change adds nothing to the play – occasionally Marcia comes across as shrill as Tamora, rather than as the steadier, more political sibling. At least the director cut the dead fly scene – not one of Shakespeare’s finest moments.

Julie Taymor’s 2000 film loomed large in my memory as the first act began with young Lucius playing with his soldiers, and then silently watching the action, but the use of the character throughout was wonderful, leading up to a shocking and ambiguous final moment. Matthew Ward as Titus seemed to morph into Anthony Hopkins at times – which can’t be a bad thing.  

Tamora and her sons had just the right mix of malice and hedonism – the boy’s’ father apparently being Vyvyan from The Young Ones. I am still not sure about Aaron – Spencer Lee Osborne was magnificently oily and silver tongued manipulating those around him and revelling in his misdeeds, but when he was in captivity he was a little too teary and shouty for my liking – making his defiance seem like empty bravado rather than malicious disdain. But I have a very specific idea of what Aaron should be, and Osborne may now have changed that a little.

Shockingly, there was not that much blood in the production. The most disturbing deaths were silent and slow, carrying on in the background as the scenes unfolded. Using modern clothing and props enables some interesting touches. While a hedonistic party plays out in the background to the strains of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, a wedding full of ritualistic gestures to the gods is carried out. Instead of messages tied to arrows, Saturninus (Gareth Kearns gleefully channelling Kenneth Branagh’s Gilderoy Lockhart) is terrified by the retweeting of young Lucius’ messages. The machinations leading up to the climactic feast are played out as a dumb show to a thumping beat with great comic effect.

So Inspector Boot of Theatre of Blood was wrong – amongst the blood, gore and spiral of tragic revenge, there is plenty of humour, albeit dark and twisted. Arrows and Traps have created a production with just the right mix of tradition and modernity. It is such a shame that last night the cast outnumbered the audience.

This is Shakespeare at his bloody best. Go and experience the madness. Take your friends. Take your teenage children. Tell them that THIS is what Game of Thrones wants to be when it grows up