Titus Andronicus: a revenge story anyone might succumb to
A war. The sacrifice of a mother’s first born. The murder of a son protecting his sister. A love in exile. The disgrace of a noble general. Titus Andronicus starts off with enough conflict and blood in the first scene to have you checking for daggers in your own back.
The first thing you see when entering the theatre is a French maid wiping the blood from the floor. It sets the tone for this bloodier-than-Macbeth piece. And if brutality and murder is to your liking, you will have your pie and eat it, too with this Bard on the Beach production.
Director Kim Collier does well with this piece. By having the prisoners of Rome enter the city rolling in oil barrels amidst the spoils, she makes it relevant. This flows into costume and décor references to Nazism, and the colonialist-feel in the hunting scene. Human depravity and the desire for revenge do not adhere to eras – they are ever-present. Collier also switches the gender of some of the characters, contemporizing the play where women can publicly be lesbians and/or in powerful positions as in the case of Lavinia, played by Colleen Wheeler. She does the same with Alarbus, Tamora’s first-born son, now daughter, played by Naomi Wright.
Christine Reimer’s costumes are perfect. The Visigoths are a cross between Montreal flair and late 80’s Euro-rave scene. Titus’ sons, when being walked off to their deaths, are dressed as black-hooded Guantanamo prisoners. The ultimate, however, was Tamora (Jennifer Lines)’ disguise as Revenge. Lines dons a seductive cat-woman outfit crowned with devilish horns in order to convince the unsound Titus (Russell Roberts) to play into her hand.
Titus was given a full range of emotion by Roberts, who shifts back and forth from doting father to ruthless warrior throughout the play. The audience shifts from sympathy to frustration to shock. As a ruthless and duplicitous Tamora, Lines is exemplary of the message within the play – that revenge is a human trait that anyone can succumb to. We pity her when her first-born daughter is taken from her without mercy and murdered by Titus and, yet, we despise her when she turns her back on Lavinia, leaving her to be raped and brutalized by her sons. Lavinia’s sons, Demetrius and Chiron (Charles Christien Gallant and Kyle Rideout respectively), are like two dogs in heat. They ooze sin, and their discourse revolves around combating or copulating. Their characters mimic a sexy Billy Idol, and I think they were the only characters lacked a single virtue, other than their six-packs.
While there were darkly-funny touches between scenes (the servants cleaning up blood with disgust) and excellent lighting, the blocking left something to be desired. Sitting at the front of the stage, most characters had their backs to us for prolonged periods and there were too many facial reactions which were unseen to many in the audience. When you’re choosing your seats, be sure to head for the wings. The music was accurate for the darker scenes and comical during the red-carpet introduction of the newly-wed Tamora and Saturninus, but was lost and tinny elsewhere. Peter Allan seems to be trying to incorporate German techno but it wound up sounding trite and noticeable.
The show, which probably has the clearest language of the Shakespearean plays may be good for a first-time Bard-goer, but is not necessarily good for the kiddies.
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare; Directed by Kim Collier. On the Studio Stage, Bard on the Beach, running until September 19. For more information check out this website.