A Little Jarring: “Titus Andronicus” by Hilary Binks

Posted on March 10, 2013


Four Letter Word Theatre certainly took a bit of a risk in choosing Titus Andronicus, a play renowned in literary scholarship for being one of Shakespeare’s “worst”.  Fun fact: T.S. Elliot has described Titus as “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.” Essentially, Titus is often written off as an early attempt by the playwright to emulate the extreme violence trending in popular plays of the time. In spite of the fusty old scholars, Sara Tabitha Catchpole’s adaptation was a fascinating and thought-provoking piece of theatre. I rarely got so lost in the Shakespearian dialogue that I lost track of the action; and I remained interested for the two-and-a-half-hour spectacle.

Dylan Morgan as the rather put-upon Titus Andronicus.

Dylan Morgan as the rather put-upon Titus Andronicus.

The most noticeable adaptation was the choice to reverse the genders of certain roles from male to female, in particular Maia Andronicus (originally Marcus); the son of the Gothic queen, Chiron; and the queen’s ‘Moor’ lover Erin (Aaron in the original). Erin (played by Nalini Vasuvedan) worked quite well as a female role, adding an interesting twist to the affair being completely ignored by the queen’s new husband. The adaptation successfully glossed over the potential awkwardness of Erin impregnating Tamora, which was a feat in itself. Maia Andronicus (Phoebe Taylor) also worked well as the respected tribune sister of Titus. On the other hand I found the choice of a female Chiron (energetically portrayed by Kat Gentry) jarring and distracting due to the character’s status as a rapist. The scene in which Chiron and her brother Demetrius (Eamonn George) rape and mutilate Lavini (Alexandra Keefe) a had a strange dynamic. Chiron seemed almost superfluous in the act, and her later representation as the embodiment of ‘Rape’ to her brother’s ‘Murder’ seemed odd because of this.  Similarly, the incestuous lust between the siblings further added a bizarre sexual vibe which took away rather than added to the depiction of the characters.

The quality of the acting was phenomenal, from both the leads and supporting cast members.  In particular, Rain Fuller’s performance as the proud, revenge-bent Tamora was captivating. Dylan Morgan gave a strong performance in the lead role and Angus Cameron gave a suave, comic feel to his depiction of Bassianas. The stage direction was elegant and effective, particularly with characters occasionally addressing the audience as a collective group of “Romans”. The onstage violence and death scenes (with the exception of Lavinia’s rape) were well choreographed and not overly dramatised.

Robert Smith’s set design was a mixture of intricate, cleverly constructed blocks (with secret lids, drawers and openings), interesting pillars filling with blood and see-through cloth covered arches. All the set, including the stage floor, was painted white which gave a very clinical feel to the backdrop. I found this a little at odds with the dirty, blood-stained action of Titus. More blood would have been better, on the linen wrapping the stumps of severed hands as well as on Lavinia after her tongue is cut out.

L-R: Lavinia (Alexandra Keefe), Chiron (Katharine Gentry) and Demetrius (Eamonn George).

L-R: Lavinia (Alexandra Keefe), Chiron (Katharine Gentry) and Demetrius (Eamonn George).

The lighting design was of a highly professional standard, with white intricate lines growing into the Roman columns and arches and painting the names dumb Lavinia writes in the ground. The lighting (designed by Tim Smith) was let down by the flimsy material that constructed the arches, which softened the projections. The music and sound effects (designed by Leech King) were used to great effect, particularly the recurring noise of buzzing flies.

The only real disappointment in an otherwise excellent production was the costuming. The costumes for the female characters seemed roughly made, while the majority of the male costumes featured formal suits, jackets and even coats; this was a bizarre contrast. There were also many unnecessary costume changes which neither made sense nor added to the production. This was in stark contrast to the props; especially the brilliant use of mason jars filled with blood and body parts, brought as a tribute onto the stage.

Overall, Sara Tabitha Catchpole’s Titus Andronicus was a success and a very enjoyable (if gruesome) way to spend an evening. This production is yet another a testament to Four Letter Word’s high standard of theatre.

Hilary Binks is a theatre reviewer for You’re Dripping Egg. You can read more about what she thinks of theatre here. More of her views on Four Letter Word Theatre are here

Four Letter Word Theatre’s production of “Titus Andronicus” is playing this week at Revolt Artspace in Kensington, Melbourne, from Tuesday 12th March – Saturday 16th March. You can book tickets here

(Hilary attended “Titus Andronicus” on opening night, Wednesday 6th March, 2013)

Posted in: Theatre