‘Brutality of the highest order’ reads the poster outside, and you better believe it. Actually a tame description in comparison to the the press coverage attracted by Lucy Bailey’s production this year, returning to the Globe since its first outing in 2006.
Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe
My expectations (already fueled by the hype surrounding the blood & guts in the show) were raised soon after our arrival. Upon entering the auditorium, always a spectacle in itself, it seemed that the atmosphere had been cranked-up a notch. The air was thick with smoke, enough to fog eyes and sting nostrils, the stage was entirely black and the usually open-air yard had been partially covered with strips of black canvas. I wasn’t sure if it was a deliberate part of the set or more to do with the ominous grey clouds floating above, but it certainly added to the dark, brooding nature of the space.
… thick gloopy blood pouring from her mouth, it was too much too take for one gentleman who promptly fainted.
Not long after the audience had shuffled in to place, it soon became obvious why the standing area felt a little more roomy than usual. Two large scaffold-like structures were wheeled in amongst us – each complete with a son, of the recently deceased Emperor, perched on top, as well as an unruly gang of Romans below. The audience, clearly already on the back foot were surprised again by the triumphant entrance of Titus, this time dramatically carried in by the Goths that he has proudly enslaved – their Queen amongst the captured. The play was well and truly under way.
There often seems to be conflicting atmospheres at the a Globe – some members of the audience do their best to immerse themselves in the unfolding drama, while others are distracted to giggling by the slight awkwardness of it all. Not being able to quite follow the language, the larger-than-life performances (that the arena demands), and the unusual level of interaction between cast and audience, all contribute to this tension.
The last aspect was particularly apparent during ‘Titus…’ as the crowd were so regularly disrupted by the aggressive entrance and exit of large groups of players. Cries of ‘Move! Move!’ were heard as the pipe-wielding, torch-bearing ‘slaves’ and ‘soldiers’ forced their way through the crowds. The shock of being surrounded was extremely thrilling In some aspects, but distracting in others. At times I became more concerned with where I needed to move and and what my fellow audience members were doing around me.
The disorientation and slight discomfort did really well to add to the atmosphere though, and by the time bodies started dropping, there really was an intensity and pace to the play. As a bewildered Lavinia staggered on stage after a particular grizzly section of the story, thick gloopy blood pouring from her mouth, it was too much too take for one gentleman who promptly fainted. Not from the strain of standing in the yard as is common in my experience, but purely for the action on stage as he was sat in the benches just to the left of the stage. Highly embarrassing for him I suspect, especially as the whole section had stand to allow him to make his ungraceful exit. Something else to distract from the stage but ultimately raising the tension once again.
Viewing didn’t get any more comfortable as the play progressed, with severed heads, severed hands and slit throats to contend with. In terms of gore, the play didn’t quite reach the heights that I had expected, but being a little squeamish, it still had me watching through the gaps of my fingers during the key scenes. There were a few odd moments in the second half where the tone seem to deviate a little too much for my taste, including the feast scene where Titus donned a comedy chef’s hat and skipped around the stage – appearing more camp than insane to me.
The most cringe-worthy moment for me was towards the end and featured relatively little blood, but the whole audience groaned at a particularly vicious murder, committed by Obi Abili in the part of Aaron. His performance over the whole evening stood out to me, balancing light touches of humour with more emotive scenes and moments of pure menace.
A solid few hours of entertainment, easy to follow and highly engaging, ‘Titus…’ is well worth the visit for anyone (other than the faint-hearted).