“Foul-spoken coward, that thund’rest with thy tongue, and with thy weapon nothing dar’st perform!”
The Globe must be loving all the attention that Titus Andronicus has gained as Lucy Bailey’s claustrophobically gory production returns and once again brings with it numerous fainters at every show, that in turn providing an easy hook for feature writers to focus on, garnering the kind of free publicity other theatres could only dream of. That people faint fairly regularly at the Globe is by the by, and far be it from me to get in the way of a good story…
And in some ways, that is kind of the point. It isn’t too far of a stretch to suggest that Titus isn’t one of Shakespeare’s strongest works and so directors have to work hard at making it work and much of what Bailey introduces is excellent. William Dudley’s design manages that all-too-rare thing of actually doing something completely different with the Globe’s space, brilliantly evoking hellish blackness throughout, and Django Bates’ score is superbly eerie.
Which seems right for such a vicious play with its macabre cycle of revenge, avenge, re-revenge ad nauseam as Roman general Titus blunders his way through defeating the Goths by sacrificing the eldest son of Tamora, their queen who he now holds hostage, to counter the deaths of his own sons in battle. Naturally this doesn’t go down too well and so as Tamora plots her own revenge, the descent into the spirals of hell becomes irreversible.
It’s all a bit doom and gloom to be sure and in trying to address, Bailey makes her first error of judgement, as far as I see it at least, in introducing a measure of comedy throughout. If it worked, this would provide momentary relief and then throw the shifts into darkness into even starker relief but for me, it just dissipated the tension, it allowed the audience too much of a free pass not to really engage with just how horrific and unstoppable vengeance can become, now as it was then.
The way in which Flora Spencer-Longhurst’s Lavinia is revealed as the most tragic of victims is just breath-taking, Bailey using the yard of the Globe to great effect on a number of occasions but by contrast, William Houston’s Titus is almost whimsical in his behaviour, especially in the crucial baking scene towards the end. Indira Varma’s heart-rending Tamora and Matthew Needham’s vituperative Saturninus both deliver good work but all in all, I’d’ve preferred something that avoided the Globe’s tendency towards farce.