Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's early and seldom performed tragedy, ought to
chime well with modern sensibilities given our current appetite for the
films of Quentin Tarantino and Wes Craven which offer a similar mixture of
gore galore, horror and black comedy. Last performed at the some Swan 15
years ago but distasteful still to many critics; what sort of reception will
this "carnival of carnage" receive nowadays?
Well, I saw two members of the audience making a premature exit. This is a play, don't forget, which depicts the
rape and subsequent dismemberment of a woman, self-mutilation and, most
famously, the slaughter, cooking and feeding of two sons to their mother
baked in a pie.
Not that director Bill Alexander pours on the gore.
Lavinia's assault and subsequent 'trimming', as one character has it, takes
place offstage and the use of stage blood is restrained. Restraint, in fact,
is the keyword for this production which features minimal staging and, most
critically, a very reined in performance by the excellent David Bradley as
the eponymous Roman general.
Rangy, gaunt, he cuts an ascetic, rather than a martial figure; indeed it is
some while before he begins to impose himself. Of course, as with Lear,
there is a danger of starting off at too high a pitch which leaves an actor
nowhere to go when the passion builds. But while Bradley leaves us in no
doubt that he is a fine actor and undoubtedly finds the pathos in the more
muted scenes, he is too quiescent.
By contrast, Joe Dixon as the villainous Moor, Aron, who masterminds the
carnage, exults in his devilry - and the devil often has the best tunes.
Dixon, who was very good in the The Malcontent and The Roman Actor last
year, is simply superb and one looks forward to his tackling some of the
major Shakespearian roles.