Titus Andronicus

Tue 20th – Fri 23rd November 2012

reviews

Rosie Oxbury

at 09:05 on 21st Nov 2012

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As student performances go, this was an impressive attempt at one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. I was curious to see how the actors would cope with the limited space afforded by a lecture theatre, but my doubts were quickly dispelled. For the opening scene, far from simply making do, the company really exploited the space given: with late sixties rock music playing and camera flashes illuminating the darkness, Saturninus ascended the podium to assert his claim to the throne. Uniting brilliantly the power of Shakespeare’s drama, submersion into the foreign world of 1968 and the buzz of an American election, it was a thrilling and atmospheric opening to the tragedy.

While the electric atmosphere unfortunately was not sustained for the rest of the play, in terms of unwrapping the plot and reeling in the audience the performance was not lacking. As someone who had not previously read or seen the play, I was not only able to keep up with the plot but was caught up in the action. The company proved sensitive both to the original text and to the interests of a modern audience, providing moments of thrill, horror, high emotion and black comedy.

Highlights included the raped Lavinia rising from the floor and turning to the audience to reveal her mutilation; the heads of Titus’s sons being thrown to the floor in front of him; and the audience squirmed as Lavinia was called on to carry her father’s amputated hand in her teeth. Equally enjoyed, however, were Titus taking Marcus to task for the killing of a fly, and the punchline popped by Aaron, “Villain, I have done thy mother!”

That said, the audience’s laughter elsewhere was unfortunately not intended. These moments were produced in some instances by unlucky mistakes, such as the overhead lights accidentally being turned on at one point, and Demetrius and Chiron fumbling for an exit, thus evaporating any horror inspired by the murdered corpse they were carrying. At other times, this was due to a careless or misjudged approach to the drama. The deaths in the final scene of Tomora, Titus and others, produced laughter. Although the action of the play was certainly carried through with feeling, this at certain points allowed it to stray into the ridiculous.

However, although the company’s handling of the drama did not always hit the mark, the actors seemed truly at home with the language and really brought the text off the page. This was for me what sold the play: regardless of whatever one saw on the stage, what was heard did not fail to impress. The acting itself could be a little wooden at times: there was a lot of awkward gesturing or standing still; and actors were at times guilty of shouting the words in place of a better way of creating emotional intensity. An exception to this would be Lucius, played by Jonathan Oakman, whose speech at the close of the play was delicately done and repaired the mood of the final scene nicely.

Particularly good performances came from Lara Panahy as Lavinia, Katie McGunagle as Tamora and Andrew Laithwaite as Aaron. I felt that Laithwaite really spoke to the audience – his soliloquies were not spoken into space but really addressed to the people sitting in the lecture theatre, which is arguably one of the most important qualities in a Shakespearian villain. McGunagle overacted at times – her act as “Revenge” was rather overdone and fairly funny – but for the rest of the time she was mesmerising and even chilling. Panahy’s performance, from pleading with Tomora early on in the play to her death in the final scene, was heart-rending, I thought – although the comedy provided by the figures of Chiron and Demetrius meant that some of her more moving moments were overlooked.

This was on the whole an admirable rendition of Shakespeare, dynamic, imaginative, sensitive and certainly displaying potential. As mistakes become eliminated with practice, the performances can only improve as the week goes on.

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