Titus Andronicus

Wed 23rd – Fri 25th May 2012

reviews

Tim Bano

at 00:52 on 24th May 2012

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As the sun slipped slowly lower into the warm evening sky, I found my way to a pleasant, sheltered spot in the University Parks for two and a half hours of Shakespeare. We were sprawled out on blankets, picnics in hand; a lady from G&Ds sold us lemon sorbet; the air was fragrant, a crepuscular coolness refreshed us. I was happy. Two and a half hours later, I was not.

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘updating’ Shakespeare, usually by changing the time or the location of the play but I thought that this was a very good way of bringing something different to a play that, although one of his lesser known pieces, has still been performed many, many times. Rebecca Claire Thomas (director) took it out of the theatre, put it in summer and put it in a park. This changes the atmosphere and I thought it was great.

Attention had been given to aspects of the production that would have otherwise been difficult to stage in a park; so, Andronici wore blue sashes and Goths wore red clothes. Blood was substituted for streaming red ribbons (there must be a haberdasher in Oxford that is doing very well at the moment…) The resonant beating of a bass drum signalled entrances and exits, new scenes and important words – although it sounded, in one scene, every time the word ‘death’ was said, which made it sound like the punchline to a joke. I was sitting right by the drum, played zealously, which occasionally drowned out the voices of those on stage. I am sure, however, that other members of the audience did not have this problem.

Then the acting begins. There was some good acting and there was some really bad acting. The cast was largely female, despite only two female parts; I do not know how intentional this was, but it worked well. It is easy to forgive a couple of fluffed lines, but there were a few too many in this production and what was unforgiveable was the mispronunciation of the word ‘heinous’ - there is only one ‘i’ in it. Different characters pronounced each other’s names in different ways which, as a minor distraction, is very easily remedied. Dionne Farrell as Titus Andronicus and Ruth Munglani as Saturninus were particularly good. While they were not quite the only ones that were acting, they were the only ones that were acting really well. Farrell was stern, hardened by war and death, vengeful and uncompromising, while Munglani projected her lines strongly and authoritatively. Much of the rest of the acting was hammy and some was too understated – but it was good fun and it was still enjoyable. The cast seemed slightly disparate so a few who were standing about on stage while the action was happening looked as though they were audience members, rather than Romans. And there was a general reluctance to get particularly physical; I am not saying that the sword fights should have been real, but when someone is restraining another member of the cast from launching into a fight then both should make it look like there is some effort involved.

The play is ridiculous. Everyone dies, or is left limbless and there is one absurd scene in which Titus, Marcus (calmly and convincingly played by Kate MacArthur) and Lucius vie to be the one to have their own hand cut off – Titus wins eventually by lopping it off while the others have their backs turned. Several moments made me laugh because they were overacted, but the whole thing was knowingly a bit silly and a good deal of fun. And the lovely setting on a fine day made up, a little, for the worse parts of the play. If the weather holds, grab a rug, a quiche and a bottle of Pimm’s and head into the park.

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