By William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Fentiman
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Tuesday 13th August 2013
Our final time of seeing this production this year, and I was a bit worried we were doing one too many. Would it still be as enjoyable as before? We were at the front on the left side, so my seat wasn’t the most comfortable because I had to twist to my left to see most of the action. I’d also forgotten my hearing aids altogether and had to get a headset for the second half so our expectations were low, but we needn’t have worried. This performance was as good as before, with more detail visible from our side angle and even more improvement in the performances.
The house was packed, with not many empty seats. The nuns didn’t come on stage till shortly before the off tonight; from what I remember they were on stage for some time in previous performances. The first cigarette got a few chuckles, and when Titus nicked the packet I could see from this angle that both he and his son checked that no one was watching first. The laugh was stronger this time
Skipping on a bit, Marcus turned up with the white sash to offer Titus the candidacy for Emperor, which Titus refused. Marcus could see Saturninus about to make his pitch, and his urgent “Titus, thou shalt obtain and ask the empery” had all the hallmarks of a stitch-up, with Marcus keen to get his brother to agree to the pre-arranged choice of the senate. Or the people of Rome. Or whoever – the mash-up of democracy and empire makes it difficult to know what was actually going on. Titus was oblivious to Marcus’ entreaty, and the situation went downhill from there.
Saturninus’ evil gloating in his brother’s direction over the marriage to Lavinia was even more obvious tonight, except to Titus of course. Tamora’s screams of grief at her son’s death were even stronger than before, and suggested that she had gone mad herself. Later, I wondered what she must have been thinking when she saw Titus kill his own son as ruthlessly as he’d allowed her son to be sacrificed. It doesn’t excuse but could certainly explain her lust for revenge. It took a couple of throws to get the wolf pelt up to Tamora tonight, and Katy Stephens was laughing when she did finally get her hands on it.
Her sons had definitely improved their performances since the last time we saw the play. Their dialogue was a fraction slower and much clearer, and their characters came across better as a result. On to the hunting, and I found Lavinia horribly smug when she boasted of being “broad awake two hours and more” – not much good at sex then, eh dearie? Things changed after the rape, of course, and tonight I could see that a large part of Lavinia’s suffering is caused by her inability to tell her father and uncle what’s happened to her. It’s often easy to forget which characters know what pieces of information, since we’ve been privy to it all, but this time Titus and Marcus’ ignorance was clear to me, as was her frustration at not being able to communicate with them.
This made the writing scene in the second half much more moving to me. First of all it was hard to watch Lavinia trying to eat, even though there was humour in the way she smashed the egg. Then she was so keen to get the book she wanted that she lunged at her nephew as soon as he came on stage. The revelations must have been both horrible to her and a relief; now they knew what had happened, and now they knew her shame. It was a very moving scene, and with the culprits’ names now revealed, the revenge part of the story could really get underway.
As Tamora groaned her way across the balcony, I could see that the fag-smoking nun was wearing rubber gloves; glad to know she takes hygiene seriously at least. Presumably this was the same nun who brought the baby to Aaron? The pigeon man went to his doom as before, and tonight I spotted Saturninus stabbing at the pigeons with his knife; the references to Titus’ sons made more sense as a result.
When Tamora began to speak to Titus as Revenge, I noticed a touch of reverb on her voice. We’d had a talk from the sound and light technicians earlier in the week, so perhaps that’s why I spotted it this time. Titus’ madness worked much better for me tonight. We’d only just seen him ordering his family to take messages to Pluto and other gods to fetch Justice back from wherever she was hiding, so given that piece of nonsense and his emotional reaction when Revenge announced herself, it was more credible that they would have believed that they’d fooled him. Titus grabbed Revenge at one point and her sons came over to sort him out, but she held out her hand to stop them and went on to introduce Titus to the banquet plot.
At the banquet, there was a lot of laughter when Titus came on wearing the maid’s outfit, including at the banquet table itself. Tamora stopped laughing when she saw Lavinia enter – as Lavinia was behind Saturninus he didn’t know she was there, but she stood looking Tamora directly in the eye for a long while. When Titus grabbed Lavinia and held the towel to her mouth to smother her, Saturninus became aware of her presence, but thought Titus’ actions were a joke to begin with. The laughing soon stopped, and then the killing began. Lucius had moved to the far end of the table in readiness to attack the Romans, and soon there was blood spurting everywhere and plenty of dead bodies for the stage crew to clean up.
I’m sure there will be some aspects of the play which will be brought out more in other productions, but this version has almost redeemed the play without lessening the impact of the horrific acts done by almost all of the characters. I’m very glad we’ve seen it, and seen it more than once.
© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me
One tiny detail. The Messenger (Three Heads etc) gave a little tip of the hat, an anachronistic bowler, just before his exit. A beautifully inappropriate piece of business from (?) Graham Turner