Review: Titus Andronicus, Arcola Theatre

“Look down into this den and see a fearful sight of blood and death”

The 80s appear to be fertile ground for reinterpretations of classics – recent weeks have seen Romeo and Juliet in Camden market and Sweeney Todd above a greasy spoon, utilising the societal upheaval of the time as a backdrop, and so too does Zoé Ford with this unique and exuberant take on Titus Andronicus. Using This Is England as a key reference point, this is a world of viscerally tribal skinheads and goths (standing in for the Goths) and one in which the enraged pursuit of bloody vengeance feels entirely appropriate.

This is a production that is broad, ballsy and extremely bloody. David Vaughan Night’s Titus is all bovver-booted swagger, Maya Thomas’ cogent Lavinia is distressingly tragic and Rosalind Blessed’s vibrant Tamora is a commendably strong presence as the two warring factions trade rape, murder, mutilations, even cannibalism, as the stakes and everyone’s pride remains too high to entertain anything but the most desperate fight to the end. 

The payoff for such energy is a rather rough-shod approach to the verse-speaking – its informality is perfect for this interpretation but too often there were issues of clarity, something vital with such a convoluted plot as this. And where it did have this attention to detail, as in Stanley J Browne’s sensational schemer West Indian Aaron, it creates the perfect marriage between the freewheeling anarchy that makes this near-unmissable and the textual integrity that has made Shakespeare endure so long.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 26th October

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *