Famous as Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, this year the RSC are taking on Titus Andronicus with a chilling contemporary twist. Despite’s Shakespeare writing 14 killings into the play and the disturbing language, it is the hard work backstage in creating the real repugnant visuals, enhancing the revolting nature of the play.
Titus Andronicus is a revenge tragedy about power and family. The production itself is incredibly visual, therefore the importance of the Designer, Illusionist and Creator of the props has a massive influence on the play. With the director’s decision to bring the play forward into the 21st century, whilst maintaining true to the text the setting has to reflect a more modern atmosphere.
“In designing it, we talked through the contemporary resonances of abusive power and lack of leadership,” said Robert Innes Hopkins the Designer of the production. “The whole season is the demonstration of the consequences when a decision made leads to the absolute opposite of your intended outcome.” Robert described designing the four Roman plays in the RSC’s Rome season “hugely exciting and challenging” because they are so triumphant and epic, but Titus Andronicus is the most creative of them all.
“As gruesome as it sounds I am looking forward to seeing the audience’s reactions to some of the graphic moments in the show,” says Illusionist Chris Fisher. Chris’ job in the show is to create moments that are unexplainable by using stagecraft. “My main focus has been on the moment Titus gets his hand cut off,” he said. The staging of the RSC’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre poses huge challenges to Chris. He explained: “Illusions are so much easier to stage if you have distance and a proscenium arch, and so having people being able to look down, behind and up-close up is not that easy.”
Heightening every shocking moment in the show is how authentic and natural the illusions look. This is created by Lauren Simmonds who works in the RSC’s Prop Shop who crafts all of the severed hands and chopped off heads. One of the most ghastly moments in the production is when a pie is made of Tamora’s Son’s head. “The pie is an interesting scene,” Laura said. “In the same large pie we have made a few separate compartments, two which are filled with edible food and are served up to eat as part of the scene, and two other compartments hold the boys’ heads. It’s all covered with gravy and a large real pastry pie crust which has been provided by our own RSC kitchen – they are making one for every show.
We have made the heads that go in the pie by casting the actors’ heads with a new skin safe product; using this mould we have been able to cast an exact replica of them out of a flesh-like silicone. These particular faces have been disfigured a little to look like they have been chopped up and cooked in a pie… You can see bits of what looks like skull and brain.”
Bursting with blood and dripping with death, Shakespeare pulled out all of the stops when it came to writing this tragedy, so the RSC are mirroring his efforts with a tremendously monstrous production.
The RSC’s Titus Andronicus is on until the 2nd of September in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, tickets and information can be found here.
Read my interview with Nia Gwynne who is playing Queen of the Goths here.