Rain was pouring down as I made my way to the Arcola Theatre in Dalston for Titus Andronicus, the weather setting the dramatic scene before I had even stepped inside the performance space. Hiraeth Artistic Productions’ Titus transferred to the Arcola just this month, bringing to East London all the grit, carnage and tragedy of Shakespeare’s goriest play.
The exposed brick and iron girder innards of the Arcola’s Studio 1 were an appropriate surrounding for the play, transposed to 1980s London with only some metal fencing, England flags and an old sofa to complete the minimalist set. The director, Zoé Ford, chose to present Titus and his fellow Romans as National Front Political Soldiers, involved in a long and violent territory war against Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her sons Demetrius and Chiron, who were reimagined as an Irish immigrant family.
Ford’s concept worked surprisingly well, and even prompted laughs from the audience as Titus handed Saturninus the keys to a BMW instead of giving him a chariot. The script was heavily edited, meaning that some characters such as Titus’s sons Quintus and Mutius were cut, but this did not have a noticeable effect on continuity although the action sometimes felt a little rushed as a result.
…utterly chilling in the final scene as host of the barbeque from hell…
There was not one character in the entire cast who was wholly virtuous in their behaviour. Stanley J Browne played the manipulative Aaron to great effect, exuding a calm menace that brought Tamora’s swaggering sons to heel with the flash of a knife. David Vaughn Knight was equally strong as Titus, and utterly chilling in the final scene as host of the barbeque from hell. However, the most overwhelming performance of the night came from Maya Thomas as Lavinia. Her initial fiery strength was in stark contrast to her subsequent pain, and it was hard to watch as she realised what had physically happened to her after being abducted by Tamora’s sons.
The production certainly did not flinch from showing sexual and physical violence on stage. A summary execution took place within the first five minutes, and the body count continued to rise until the very last moment. It was difficult to bear witness to the brutal escalation of Titus and Tamora’s revenge upon each other, and the company were brave in their exploration of just how far it’s possible to go in the name of defending family honour.
…a totally fearless interpretation…
Hiraeth’s unflinchingly brutal production delivers a theatrical sucker punch to the audience. Indeed, after the carnage of the previous two hours, it was jarring to exit the theatre to the cheerful strains of ‘Our House’ by Madness and return to the relative calm of Dalston’s streets. This is a totally fearless interpretation of Titus that will leave you reeling.