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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Shakespeare’s Globe, London


  David Sturzaker, Douglas Hodge, Laura Rees, Richard O' Callaghan

In his first great stage success, Shakespeare gave Elizabethan audiences what they wanted: howls against God, intrigue and sex, but above all gags and gore. Director Lucy Bailey doesn't fight shy of the play's hysterical, madcap excess or the horrors of its random cruelty, both of which strike resonant chords today. At least four people fainted in the ghastlier moments of Titus the night I saw it, but the theater also pulsed with cathartic laughter. Bailey and designer William Dudley may have disguised the Globe's antique trappings in black silk, and even given it a flimsy canvas roof. But by boiling down the emotions, and by hectoring and herding the "groundlings" in the pit into the role of active participants, they've come the closest yet to what I imagine the original Globe was like.

Douglas Hodge plays Titus, the Roman general whose sons are killed, whose daughter is raped and butchered, and whose hand is cut off for a practical joke, after his sometime captive, Tamara, becomes the wife of his besotted emperor. The grizzled Hodge is entirely credible as both soldier and father, tipped by grief into a vengeful state as vicious as that of his tormentors. This is a world where the moral center has slipped, which is why the gloriously nihilistic speeches of Shaun Parkes's charismatic Aaron, Tamara's Moorish lover, carry such power. As Titus's daughter Lavinia, Laura Rees starts off bland but gains a harrowing power after her character's desecration. She's the one who caused the fainting. Right up to the end, Bailey keeps the play see-sawing between the comic and the macabre. Lavinia uses the stumps of her truncated arms to toss an apple to Titus, who rams it into the mouth of her ravager, prior to bleeding and gutting him and serving him up to his mum, Tamara.

It's not all perfect. Much of the acting lower down the cast is weak, and Bailey's use of smoke and drums and confetti sometimes looks like an attempt to impose directorial window-dressing on this intractably stark space. But it is engrossing. By not striving for historical authenticity or contemporary relevance, Bailey has achieved a weird hybrid of both. At the end, Titus's few remaining relatives addressed the mob-us-from a portable tower in the pit, asking our permission to end the cycle of violence. I was just above them in the gallery; the "groundlings" were below. But all of us were rapt. Those fainters don't know what they missed.


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