One could assume that when adapting Titus Andronicus Philip Howard took the phrase ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’ and ran with it, as this latest version of the Bard’s most bloody and violent play sees the action transplanted from Rome to a restaurant. And the results are delicious.
For modern audiences it is easy to become desensitised to the violence we see everyday on the news and television. It’s easy to stay removed when staring at a screen or a stage from the comfort of our seats. This is somewhat remedied by the stage design for Titus Andronicus, as when watching the events unfold we stop being an audience and become diners feasting on the drama served us. While the violence on display is never graphic to the point of extreme, it is inescapable because of the sheer proximity and physicality of the performers which the stage design allows. By virtue of constructing the stage with an arena set-up, the actors are given an expansive space in which to perform with work surfaces and diners’ tables all becoming props for use. All this comes together to create a show that is very physical and full of energy as the actors run, jump and scream from table to table. This isn’t a show where you sit back and watch, it’s one you experience.
At times Titus Andronicus becomes part play, part rave with dance music pumping through the sound system. While this goes a long way towards modernising the play, it doesn’t always blend seamlessly. The transition between the music and dialogue can at time be quite jarring, often making it difficult to hear the beginning of a character’s line. But, all in all, this element adds more to the tone and style of the play than it detracts.
Immersive and entertaining, the Rep’s Titus Andronicus is loud, brash, and sometimes quite literally in your face, and is all the better for it. This doesn’t feel like a production of what some believe is Shakespeare’s oldest play; with use of technology, stage design, music and lighting it is very much grounded in the 21st century.