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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow Titus Andronicus: An All-female Production
Titus Andronicus: An All-female Production
Published on Friday, 09 August 2013

4 stars

Bedlam Theatre (venue website)
2-24 Aug, 7:30pm-8:35pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

I’d describe Titus Andronicus as many things – horrifying, grotesque, perhaps a little bit ridiculous – but I’ve never previously considered that it might be properly funny. This stylish adaptation from the Smooth Faced Gentlemen draws plenty of dark humour from Shakespeare’s text, galloping faithfully through the plot with a smirk to the gallery and an ironic roll of its eyes. I’ve no idea at all whether it’s what the Bard intended – but it’s certainly served to make me look at his work anew.

This particular production, more than most, is defined by a single inspired idea.  In the alternative world of this twisted Titus, you commit a murder not by drawing blood, but simply by painting your victim red.  Characters threaten each other with pots of emulsion; they fight by drawing brushes, and you know it’s about to get really messy when the long-handled rollers come into play.  It’s a truly ingenious gimmick, which preserves the merest hint of blood-spattered gore yet also confers unambiguous permission to laugh at all the excess.

A few times in fact, I wished that they’d gone larger – surrendered themselves to proper, B-movie, paint-spraying carnage.  But I can see why they didn’t, because this is an admirably elegant and disciplined production.  The purple-red paint contrasts with a stark white set; and that set doubles as a screen for some occasional shadow-play, which works well to break up the pell-mell pace of the storytelling.  If you don’t know Titus off by heart, you’ll have to concentrate quite hard at the beginning, but by the time the notorious pie comes out of the oven you’ll be thoroughly bought into the tale.

The trouble with dialling up the comedy, though, is that it tends to seep out into the serious bits.  Most strikingly, the rape of Lavinia can simply never be treated lightly – and they’ve addressed that fact slightly uncomfortably, neither showing her defilement nor completely pushing it off-stage.  The subsequent scenes, with a mute Lavinia dripping blood from her mouth, did achieve a sense of unspoken horror, but I still felt there was a fundamental issue here that wasn’t quite resolved.

Amidst a universally strong cast, top honours must go to Henri Merriam in the title role.  Hers is a bluff and sardonic Titus, who seems entirely conscious of the excesses of the play he finds himself in.  Vivienne Acheampong's Aaron the Moor is also impressive, and equally self-aware; he rolls his eyes at Shakespeare’s attitude to his race and, by highlighting it, defuses it.

Oh, and one last thing… all the actors are women.  I’d expected I’d have a lot to say about that, but the truth is that – after the first thirty seconds – I barely even noticed.  They arrive on the stage and announce that they’re men; they dress like they’re men, and they behave like they’re men.  The fact that the actors are women just didn’t impinge on my view of their characters, and I honestly don’t know if they’ll be pleased or saddened by that outcome.

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