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Published on Monday, 13 May 2013

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2 stars

The Old Courtroom (venue website)
4 May, 9:00pm-10:00pm; 5 May, 3:00pm-4:00pm, 9:00pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Suitable for age 16+ only.

It’s an attention-grabbing concept: Shakespeare’s most gruesome tragedy adapted into a musical comedy. And a concept like this is going to take a lot of living up to. Do Sheep Theatre do that? No, they don’t. They do deliver something sort-of compelling with a few entertaining moments, but they completely fail to hit the target they’ve set themselves.

This version of Titus, based on a distinctly macho show, features a lot of women in male roles. Good roles for female performers are notoriously scarcer than for men, and I’m always surprised I don’t see more gender-blind casting, as it usually works extremely well. Here, for example, the doomed sons of Tamora – Queen of he Goths – are played by a pair of female actors like a sulking, blonde, Tweedledum and Tweedledee (and dressed in full on black and masses of eyeliner, because they’re Goths in the most modern sense too). They were just so watchable, I could have looked at them lurking in the background for hours. They were also pretty good at being baked in a giant pie, an acting challenge more performers should take on.

Sadly, the rest of the cast just didn’t work at all, with rather too much ham and quite a lot of line fluffing. And some of the performances were distinctly wooden. In the end this was what let the show down: there was just too much stumbling and mumbling, too many lines were delivered as if they had just that moment been given to the actors jotted on the back of an envelope.

Titus Andronicus has some very memorable pieces of violence. As well as the notorious moment when Tamora is served a pie containing her own sons, there’s also a sickening rape, multiple-murder, crucifixion, and Titus himself being forced to cut off his own hand. To carry off a true comic version of Titus Andronics would take massive comedy chops, and much stronger, more skilled performances. (And I have no idea if it would work, even then.)

So perhaps it’s a relief that Sheep Theatre didn’t actually attempt the blood-soaked story Shakey wrote. Everything is watered down here: so much so that, in the end, everyone was still alive. This is not really the same story at all. At points it becomes a very meta commentary on Shakespeare’s goriest tale – some of this commentary, it must be said, is a bit GCSE English – but it doesn’t quite come together, despite ripping down the fourth wall and stomping on it.

It’s a shame this doesn’t work, because Sheep Theatre deserve kudos for attempting it. Maybe the show is best viewed as an experiment to see it if could be done. But for the experimental model to have any merit, some experiments have to fail. Sadly, this was one of them.

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