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Titus Andronicus – The Rose Playhouse, London

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director:Jung Han Kim
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

It’s gorgeous, really, the Rose Playouse. The still pool covering the former pit and stage area of an old theatre, now reflecting the steel and concrete of a modern London office. It’s cold even in midsummer, not quite crypt-like as there’s too much air, but incredibly peaceful and dynamic at the same time in its constant half-light. The whole space speaks of a mix of forms, the Elizabethan theatre and the modern top, and over the past few years, this characteristic has been reflected strongly in its programming.

Jung Han Kim’s Titus Andronicus sets out immediately to provoke the audience with its mix and mesh of styles, artistic disciplines and visual aesthetics. There are large swathes of this 90-minute work that are odd, almost incomprehensible and certainly overwrought to the point of being pastiche of a Sixth Form experimental theatre workshop, but for all that there’s an elegance to the production and ambition to the portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s most bloody works that is impossible to ignore.

Using very modern techniques of movement, sculptural positioning, light, sound and more the production seeks to communicate what seems to be an impression almost of the play, rather than a straightforward narrative. All the elements are in here – the war, the loyalty, the filicide and masses of torture and revenge. Titus’ (Charles Sandford) fall from preferred military commander to madman is a balanced arc – while extreme, with everything else in the piece so extreme too it seems apt.

Of particularly interesting note was the use of movement in the piece and costume. Combined, these two elements made it an incredibly violent and wincingly erotic display. Leather trousers, a massive amount of crotch bulging just at audience eye height, torn clothes, paint, colour, hyper-realistic strangulation and the addition of a sweating, gurning, junkie-looking Luciusallservice of this idea of communicating emotions rather than the basic storyline.

As Lucius, David Couter is a visual shock, sickly and pale and charismatic as he performs some of the most violent acts of the play. It takes a lot out stand out from this cast, chosen to be contrapuntal and create a sense of discord rather than a smooth flow of RP Shakespeare.

Tendai Humphrey Sitima throughout, and especially in his portrayal of Aaron, is especially attractive, his Zimbabwean accent and the force of his speech alone mesmerise.

The real star, though, naturally, is Titus. Charles Sandford tears through this part hungrily, creating a visual, auditory and theatrical spectacle ending with a glorious, mostly naked death struggle that is appropriately seared into audience retinas with a flash of light. As a whole, sometimes the choreography and energy can feel a little worthy, a bit try-hard, but it goes into service a greater effect so should probably get a pass

Some people will absolutely hate this. There were many recoiling audience members with eyes shut at the horrendous rape scenes, the fighting and the death. The cast and crew aren’t out to entertain here, this is challenging, inventive stuff. It’s not going to win an Olivier, but it’s not a spectacle that will be forgotten easily, nor should it be at all.

Runs until 30 July 2016 | Image: Yole Lambrecht

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Challenging, inventive stuff

User Rating: 4.43 ( 2 votes)

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  1. Very interesting production, great use of space, and small cast. Made me think that this is what theatre is all about with the actors playing multiple roles and constantly asking the audience to suspend belief. Really worth going to see. All solid performances with some really difficult subject matter. The final scene certainly made me think of a world run by Trump and Putin.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed this very cut-down version of my favourite play. The Q&A session afterwards helped explain some of the ideas, many of which I hadn’t grasped. I still don’t understand why the very beautiful Tamora was effectively topless throughout but it added to the enjoyment.

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