Blood, guts, murder, revenge, the severing of limbs for rape, cannibalism, political assassination, fighting foreign wars, dubious political alliances, spin, the gullibility of the general population, political volte faces, framings and hypocrisy, nepotism, suicide, sacrifice… this list goes on.
Even when Shakespeare wrote this play it was old-fashioned: a revenge tragedy in the Roman tradition. And yet political murders, internecine struggles, nepotism, racism, political assassination were all things that the Elizabethan audience could identify happening in their own time. Even more of them can be identified as happening right now at some place in the world.
Exaggerated as it may seem, then, this is a play for Shakespearian times and it is a play for ours. That is why when you come to see this fine production you should be in your seats ahead of time. The contemporary context is set before the dialogue starts. There are three factions vying for power, represented by a retrospectively splendid extended dumb show.
Blanche McIntyre’s production highlights power struggles of many kinds. The placard ‘Austerity kills’ immediately sets the sub-text of the production, placed amidst street fighting, looting, rival gangs whose members are interchangeable, the police as another gang jockeying for power, all followed by an election. Ring any bells? Sure. So is the unlikely outcome of the election. The production is prescient in its presentation of a corrupt leader forming an alliance with a right wing foreign power in order to maintain power. How did he know this would happen? Because it is the stuff of dangerous and corrupt societies. What a message.
David Troughton’s Titus is a figure imprisoned within himself and within his own mind commenting on himself and others but not really engaging with the reality of any of them. This play is so harsh in its message that to begin with the audience found it hard to engage with the farcical black comedy with which this production is infused. The grotesque removal of Titus’s hand when he sacrifices it to save the lives of his sons is hard to watch.
The hands are not the only metaphors in this production. Sex is throughout a metaphor for politics and vice versa. And the many costume changes become a metaphor too.
The production is busy, often hectically busy, with action and yet there are some superb moments of stillness. Watch out for the powerful effect of Titus’s laughter scene.
And characters are distinguished not only by costume, behaviour and posture but also by the style of vocal delivery. Titus’s brother Marcus, for example, (splendidly played by Patrick Drury) is set apart from the others not only by his formal contemporary clothes but by his wonderful Olivier-like delivery and intonation – a survivor in an alien world.
There is so much to see and think about in this production that it is even better in retrospect. Emperor Saturninus’s Superman t shirt, extraordinary use of a cardboard box, the stew with Tamara’s sons’ heads in it, the banquet at a table set only for four, the framing of the drama with the spin of a political MC, the messengers on a bike, a pool scene: these are only some of the production’s inspired thought provoking elements which become ideas.
It’s all pretty exhausting.
You will need to recover with a relaxing night’s stay at Moss Cottage to bring you back to the kind of reality you would like to inhabit.