Hiraeth Artistic Productions's Titus Andronicus, directed by Zoe Ford, serves up a gory and explosive piece of theatre, right in the heart of a thriving, eccentric community. Camden Town, London, known for its eccentricities and pulsating/quirky atmosphere, is perfect for a production of Titus Andronicus. An area of London renowned for being a haven to “Goths”, there is something quite tongue-in-cheek about the location of the play, staged at the Etcetera Theatre, just meters away from Camden Market. As the lights go down and the characters begin to tell their tales, the audience is almost left with the feeling that we are hiding out in a corner of the middle of a warzone.
Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, and it shows. In a good way. It is filled with the rage and gratuitous violence that can sometimes litter the writing of a new playwright. While his other plays also show gore, none of them does so in the same unflinching manner. Re-imagining this play and placing it in the skinhead era, or “doused in 80s politics, music, fashion and culture” as described by Hiraeth, works a treat. During a time when society was as volatile and disillusioned as ever in this country, the battles and grievances of the characters resonate well throughout the audience.
The performance space is small, and this lends to the intensity of the piece. Being right up close to the violence occurring on stage makes for some uncomfortable and shocking viewing. Several of the audience members gasp in shock and look away in fear as one of the actors spurts blood from their mouths. Had this same production been performed on a bigger stage, it would not have retained the same amount of shock value it currently has. It creates the sense of being caged in.
When the audience enters, the actors already stand on stage, riddled in a freeze frame until the start of the play. It would be more powerful to have the actors moving around and interacting with each other while people file into their seats. This is pretty much the only blot on what is otherwise some excellent direction from Zoe Ford, who is also the producer and founder of Hiraeth Artistic Productions. Particularly enjoyable is one of the actors coming up the stairs through the audience and handing out a “vote for” slip; very engaging.
The set is simple and minimalist, and for the limited space, it works well. Designer Nadia Malik creates a set that fulfills the needs of the actors and highlights the feelings of a 1980s England, emphasised particularly by the fencing against the back of the stage. Malik also provides the costumes, supervised by Nerea Villares. The Skinheads swagger about in their Doc Martins boots and Ben Sherman shirts, almost as if the actors had been plucked out of a National Front rally. The Goths' costumes however, are a little too simple. Malik and Villares could have possibly added more to the Goths than some simple black clothing, being in Camden after all, they could have perhaps taken a little more inspiration from the people wondering around outside the theatre. The music, provided by Daniel Martin, helps to ground the piece in the 80s, and does add a good laugh when we watch the Goths dancing to “Like a Virgin”.
Fight director Claire Richardson creates fight sequences that are slick and confident; however, the cast has problems with execution. There are times when the fights and movements appear to be clunky and under rehearsed. This is most evident in the scene where Chiron and Demetrius are toying with Lavinia before raping and mutilating her. There are moments when it appears as if the actors have lost control of each other and that someone might subsequently fall when not intended.
The acting throughout is very powerful. A favourite scene (being someone who grew up idolizing the gratuitous violence prevalent in Scarface and The Godfather) is when Titus Andronicus cuts off his hand. After being convinced by Aaron, Titus, played by the imposing David Vaughan Knight, takes a rusty shovel, crouches behind a sofa and proceeds to lop his own hand off, emerging with a bloody stump and a severed appendage. Santurninus, played by Alexander Neal, is snarly and malevolent throughout, offering a lovely contrast against the brutish Andronicus. The actors portray their characters confidently and energetically throughout, but it is Maya Thomas, who plays Lavinia, who shines brightest.
This Titus Andronicus is one word: relentless. It absolutely does not stop to draw breath or slow down; in fact it picks up speed and provides the audience with wave after wave of violence, bloodshed and fury. Another impressive production from Hiraeth.