The Shakespeare adaptations of the theatre company Arrows & Traps have always been very enjoyable. Director Ross McGregor is very good at producing great pieces of work of which the components are thought out well, and fit comfortably around certain themes. This process allows him to successfully present interesting adaptations. On this occasion however, Titus Andronicus falls short of what I have been used to with the company’s work.
General Titus Andronicus has defeated the Goths and captured their Queen Tamora, returning to Rome with her and her sons as prisoners. As a sacrifice to the Gods, Tamora’s eldest son is killed. While this is happening, Rome is to decide who will be their leader, and they are forced to choose between brothers Saturninus and Bassianus. When the choice falls down to Titus, he picks Saturninus, who asks Tamora to rule Rome with him as his Queen. She agrees, and so begins Tamora’s revenge for her murdered son.
McGregor has modernised the play’s setting, which works well most of the time. I especially liked the way the play begins with projections of news reports, where the audience are given an insight into the characters of Saturninus and Bassianus. Twitter is also used in the play, helping alert the Romans of Saturninus’ crimes, and speeches are spread with the help of phones. I think this aspect of the play was very well executed. McGregor does well in commenting on how the government is presented in the media, and how social media especially can manipulate circumstance. However, this choice in setting feels odd at times. For example. the Clown (a hilarious performance by Annie McKenzie) is told to physically deliver a written message to Saturninus, which seems out of place around the Wii controllers and the MacBook.
The play is known for its overt violence and blood, which makes it so spectacular when staged. This is what is missing in this adaptation. Lavinia’s (portrayed by Remy Moynes) face and body is covered in blood, but the reveal of her cut tongue was not very eye-catching. Also the cutting of Titus’ hand was not bloody enough, and the prop hand was comical, which is not the desired effect of bloody limbs in the context of the play. Sadly, these aspects take away from the good elements of this adaptation.
Elizabeth Appleby is equal amounts scary and powerful as Tamora, manipulating her way through the play. Opposite her, Spencer Lee Osborne is great as Aaron, funny at times but also very sinister. He is very Iago-esque in the way he manipulates the audience into liking him, something I was sucked into very easily. Matthew Ward as the title character is powerful, though seems too gentle at times, and almost fragile, appearing with a cane at first. Ward picks up this power, and in the brilliant banquet scene he is just the right amount of comedic and sinister. My favourite choice of casting is Cornelia Baumann as Marcia Andronicus. I admire McGregor’s choice of presenting a female Marcus. In a play where a Queen approves of a young girl being raped and dismembered, it is nice to see a female character resented in a powerful and positive way. Baumann was spectacular, and her passion for her country and her family was truly believable.
Titus Andronicus is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. The blood and gore, the violence, the overtly sexual characters are some aspects of this play which makes it appealing. The story is exciting, and if presented in a certain way, it can reflect modern politics, which will make it topical and therefore an interesting choice of play to adapt. But in this instance, the lack of violence and gore is disappointing for me. I am a big fan of Arrows & Traps, and they usually deliver outstanding Shakespeare, but this time their Titus Andronicus was just not as impressive.