Theatre Review: Titus
Fractious Tash and Q Presents
Q Theatre Loft
May 29, 2013
There’s a teeth-chilling moment in Titus when a character’s hand is hacked off. It’s demonstrated on one side of the darkened stage by a sawing motion and on the other side by a gratingly awful scraping of metal on metal, amplified through a microphone. It’s playful, modern, gruesome and just one example of the wonderfully imaginative direction in this production by Fractious Tash. The hand is not the only bodily loss. Heads roll. Chastity is stolen. And lashings of inky blood are splattered in Shakespeare’s most violent work. It’s one of the bard’s least fashionable tragedies and seldom seen on stage, but even if you’re not familiar with the play this fast-paced interpretation by an all-male cast of recent Unitec alumni keeps you riveted and repulsed. Roman general Titus Andronicus returns to Rome with Tamora Queen of the Goths and her sons as prisoners. Power struggles, revenge, rape and murder ensue.
It’s the second outing for this production a year after it had a limited season at Unitec and the actors clearly relish their roles, including those playing the ladies. With a cast of just seven, the actors tackle multiple roles and some characters are even played by soft toys. For the most part, this innovative approach works. The exception is the burial of plastic dolls in a cardboard box – the solemnity undermined by the ridiculousness. Overall, it’s exciting to see director Benjamin Henson take risks and encourage his cast to really play with stagecraft. The action is backed up with considered lighting, unexpected sound design (Nicki Minaj in Shakespeare?) and clever costuming, particularly the sooty, sunken eye makeup. Be prepared. In this abridged, accelerated version, there is no interval. The brutality doesn’t let up until the final slaughter, and it’s all revoltingly entertaining.