REVIEW: Titus Andronicus (New Wimbledon Studio)

24763_fullFor “Titus Andronicus”, theatre company Arrows & Traps get out the claws their name promises. The audience finds themselves following a sinister world where the Shakespearean, Roman and contemporary eras blend together.

War hero Titus Andronicus cannot catch a break – his victory over the Goths and sacrificial killing of Queen Tamora’s eldest son – is soon overshadowed by the terror that sets off with Emperor Saturninus’ crowning. Saturninus, scorned by Titus’ daughter Lavinia, choses Tamora as his bride, marking the downfall of the Andronicus clan. They die like the flies, some killed by family quarrels, others by law and a scheming Empress. Meanwhile in the palace, marriage and family ties are less than rosy and tinted in more of a blood red hue, too. Titus struggled to defend his children against Tamora’s vengeance, while trying to keep his sanity and restore Rome to its former glory.

With their Shakespeare sessions, Ross McGregor and his team go through genres, time periods and (fashion) styles. This adaptation leaned towards a political splatter horror. Although you had to be careful not to wade through blood on the floor during the interval, Arrows & Traps only accentuates especially violent moments with gore and blood. This effectively creates an intense, violent spectacle, where brutality stands out but special effects are not overdone.

The stage design this time is minimal, with a steel scaffolding in the background, and the occasional video projection of political media coverage and Twitter activism. While very clever, sadly the social commentary falls a bit flat. It does not negatively interrupt the play by any means, but in its strange undefined time period (modern clothing, use of phones and gaming consoles, but with “Roman” capes and swords), it did not seem to fit or add much either. What makes more than up for this are the beautifully executed choreographies and movement direction, as well as the original use of masks. A murderous scene in the second half is so cunningly choreographed, it alone would make the production worth a recommendation. While Will Mytum and Alex Stevens as bloodlusty brothers seem to stand in direct competition with Jared Leto’s latest Joker-portrayal, and Gareth Kearns delights as sleazy but cowardly politician with a gigantic smile, this is the women’s show:
Elizabeth Appleby doesn’t allow any doubt that she is anything but a Queen and excels as ruler of the Goths and vengeful Empress. Cornelia Baumann as Marcia Andronicus is as solid as rock and the voice of reason and compassion when all males around her seem to lose it.

This production of “Titus Andronicus” keeps the tension and feeling of unease high from its first minute. Not for the faint of heart or those that have a weak stomach, but a worthy adaptation of a Shakespeare play that doesn’t rank as highly amongst the usual suspects.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent

Titus Andronicus is playing at the New Wimbledon Studio until 14 November 2015. Click here for tickets