Brutality of the highest order

Brutality of the highest order

Robert Tanitch reviews Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London

Everybody should go to Shakespeare’s Globe at least once. It is a theatrical experience like no other. Whether everybody should see Titus Andronicus is another matter

The least performed of all Shakespeare’s plays, it was extremely popular in its day, the 1590’s. The action, based on Seneca and Ovid, has no historical foundation and is a relentless cycle of sensational and grotesque atrocities.

When it was revived after an extremely long absence with Laurence Olivier in 1955, extra members of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade had to be brought in. Audiences, not used to seeing such graphic horrors, were fainting all over the place.

A nightmare of demented revenge is set off by the religious ritual of the sacrifice of the eldest son of the captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, who have been defeated in battle.

Despite having already lost 22 sons in battle, Titus kills his youngest boy for disobeying him when the lad tries to protect his sister from a forced marriage to the Emperor Saturninus.

Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, is raped by Tamora’s sons. Her hands are chopped off and her tongue is ripped out. Her husband, Bassianus, is murdered and Titus’s last remaining sons are framed for the murder.

The most famous scene is the dinner party at which Titus (dressed as a chef) serves up the dead bodies of Tamora’s sons in a pie he has baked specially for her and his guests.

Titus Andronicus is a very difficult play to recommend. Nevertheless, at the matinee I attended, the Globe audience (which included a large party of schoolgirls) took all the horrors and brutality in their stride.

The production is by Lucy Bailey and the cast is headed by William Houston as Titus, who is quite bonkers for some of the time, Indira Varma as Tamora, a villainess of the first order, and Matthew Steadman as the very immature Emperor Saturninus.

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