Titus Andronicus – more gore than bore

Tuesday 15 August 2006

Be warned. For a play with a reputation for over-the-top gore, Titus Andronicus at the South Bank’s Shakespeare’s Globe has an awful lot of words in it too.

Andrew thinks it may have been the verbiage rather than the fake blood that resulted in so many groundlings to be escorted from the theatre by concerned-looking ushers. In fact, he was tempted to feign faintness himself more than once in the first half.

To be fair, Andrew has to confess that he doesn’t really do Shakespeare very well. He finds the effort of listening so hard rather wearing and his mind tends to wander, so – as Elizabethan and Jacobean drama goes – Titus A is a relatively attractive proposition what with there being so much on-stage death, amputation, cannibalism &c.

Half-helpfully, the programme (a relative bargain at £3.00 with lots of interesting information in it. Take note West End & esp. Theatre Royal Haymarket) has a plot synopsis which selectively outlined the action, although many of the finer points were glossed over, so perhaps Andrew wasn’t the only one struggling with the many words.

The first half is a bit too Shakespearean, with Douglas Hodge (Titus) doing quite a lot of that declaiming thing, but in the second half – when the tragedy ascends into farce – the whole thing lightens and is played with both eyes on the laughs which is much more enjoyable. Frankly, the time began to fly by.

Particularly entertaining is Shaun Parkes (“Aaron, a Moor”) who got the only spontaneous applause of the evening, but Geraldine Alexander as Tamora and Laura Rees as Lavinia also deserve plaudits, the latter deserving an Olivier award for “Best post-double-hand-amputation and tongue extraction performance” if there is such a thing (and if there isn’t, there should be).

Other high points include the styling of Tamara’s Goth sons who look as though they are moonlighting in matinee performances of Cats and didn’t quite have time to get all the slap off before the curtain went up on Titus A.

But anyway, Andrew has to confess that this turned out to be a fantastic evening. Seeing a show at The Globe is an amazing experience and this show has a lot to commend it.

Andrew hears that The Globe is branching out from Shakespeare so if you can’t stomach three hours of words, look out for something else. And his tip for the directors of The Globe is: Go for it. Andrew would pay very good money to see Kiss Me Kate here. Perfect.

In the meantime, some coping strategies:

  • Don’t be a groundling unless you are really poor or really absorbed by words.
  • Fork out the extra £1 to hire a cushion. The benches are hard and the evening is long
  • You can take your cup of wine into the theatre (Andrew was gutted not to find this out until the interval)

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