Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Thursday 20th July, 2017
Shakespeare’s bloodiest play (and a big box office hit during his life) is given a contemporary setting in Blanche McIntyre’s darkly enjoyable production. Hoodie-wearing plebs pose for selfies in front of pageantry. A Deliveroo driver turns out to be a hapless messenger, murdered for his bad luck. It’s all recognisable if at times the relevance comes in the form of cheap laughs.
David Troughton is utterly compelling as the warlike general Titus, whatever the outlandish demands of the script. Madness and grief are closely entwined as events unfold, with his lust for revenge tipping him over the edge. Nia Gwynne’s formidable Tamora embodies icy determination and fiery emotion in her slight form, while Luke MacGregor and Sean Hart earn their crust (ha!) as her flaky sons Chiron and Demetrius.
Stefan Adegbola is just about perfect as the villainous Aaron, brimming with spite until the last, while Tom McCall’s Lucius is as upright and righteously vengeful as you would hope – in a play teeming with baddies, Lucius is at best the anti-hero. I also enjoy Martin Hutson’s Saturninus, a hollow politician who could have come directly from Westminster or the US Senate. There is strong support from an excellent cast, definitely not least of whom is Patrick Drury as Titus’s brother, Marcus (not Ronicus as I at first assumed… Never mind). Drury is upright and decent – it takes a lot to break him, but he shares the play’s most tender scene when Marcus stumbles across his niece, the ‘mangled Lavinia’ following the traumatic attack by Tamora’s sons. As Lavinia, Hannah Morrish is truly heart-rending – mostly through stillness to accompany her enforced silence. Meanwhile, young Will Parsons makes a strong impression as Young Lucius – and he makes you wonder, along with Aaron’s bastard offspring – into what kind of world children are being born. Young Lucius stands observing, like young Barron Trump – How on Earth is he going to turn out being set such an example?
The action performs a dizzying tightrope act between horror and humour – the violence is graphic, the humour blacker than dark matter. For the most part, McIntyre steers with an assured hand – it’s the abrupt gear changes of the play that give rise to wobbles. The bloodbath at the denouement is fast-paced and breath-taking, and all the more shocking because of it.
Entertaining, harrowing and a stark reminder of the barbarism that passes for civilised society, this is a Titus that will stick in the memory longer than a certain meat pie sticks in Tamora’s craw.