Continuing the RSC’s Rome Season, director Blanche McIntyre has approached Shakespeare’s most gruesome and bloodiest play in a highly contemporary way. Set in the 21st century, it gives an insightful view on the brutality of politics in a completely heightened way, yet the modern adaptation feels chillingly relevant as it shines a light on the consequences of political anguish.
When Tamora Queen of the Goths is captured by conquering soldier Titus and brought back to Rome as a prisoner, she secretly plans her revenge on Titus and his family after he has slaughtered her eldest son.
There is a reason the RSC are doing an experiment with various participants to monitor the heart rates of audience members during the show as there is an abundance of blood and massacre, and the sheer carnage and savagery feels even more shocking because of the modern staging. Set in today’s world, the piece opens with young gangs confronting one another through slick, dynamic and punchy choreography. It’s a striking opening that really sets the tone of anger, frustration and rivalry.
Despite all the blood and gore, I found the scene in which Tamora orders her sons to rape Lavina the most difficult to watch. This horrific act of violence is tricky to stage but director Blanche McIntyre has approached it well. Hannah Morrish, playing Lavina, is making her debut in the RSC’s Rome Season and her portrayal of the role is outstanding. It’s painful to see the terror and fear in her eyes as she begs Tamora whilst being dragged away by the two men, but it’s the diminish of her character in the play that stands out the most.
Morrish’s character progression is faultless, as she descends from a charismatic young lady to someone stripped of all dignity and confidence. The moment in which her uncle finds her drenched in blood, with her underwear around her ankles is unbelievably distressing to watch.
David Troughton gives a superb performance as the noble general Titus Andronicus. He delivers the dialogue with emotion, sincerity and truth – allowing the audience to really sympathise with the tragic hero. His rivalry with Tamora, Queen of the Goths and their barbarism towards one another is captivating yet entirely sickening. Nia Gwynne shines as Tamora, as she excellently captures the hysteria of the character which is formed by the immense pain and grief she holds after Titus killed her son. Her revenge spirals out of control and the stark difference in character from the caring woman in the opening scene pleading for her son’s life, and who she becomes in the latter is acted remarkably by Gwynne.
Light humour is found through inhuman ruthlessness, Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy maintains the strong narrative and shocking gore but is tackled in an intelligent and engaging way that feels entirely fresh.
Titus Andronicus is on at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 2nd of September, information and tickets can be found here.
Read my interview with Nia Gwynne who plays Tamora Queen of the Goths here.
Read my Behind The Scenes of Titus Andronicus here.