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Titus Andronicus review – wait 'til the tabloids get a load of this Globe show

Jude Christian directs a new production of the bloody play

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Lucy McCormick in Titus Andronicus
© Camilla Greenwell

You can almost imagine the trembling tabloid newswriter's fingertips on the keyboard: first Wokeo and Juliet, then playing around with Joan of Arc – now what are the Globe's snowflakes up to – staging Shakespeare's bloodiest play without any BLOOD? WITHOUT MEN? AND WITH TRIGGER WARNINGS?? Sweating, flushed and excited, they bash out 300 hasty, sensational words and hit send – waiting for the inevitable pat on the back from Mr Murdoch. Job done.

Anyway. It's hard not to think about the baffling media reaction to some of the Globe's recent shows (something that artistic director Michelle Terry has even spoken openly about) during director Jude Christian's wilfully irreverent take on Titus Andronicus.

Christian jettisons wholesale portions of the original text to create a pretty left-field re-interpretation of the bodycount-heavy tragedy, recounting a brutal civil conflict involving all manner of flagellation, murder and other crimes. It's a pretty solid reminder that George R R Martin is merely following in the Bard's footsteps.

This staging might not have the same funky vision as Taylor Mac's Titus spin-off Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus (now there's one the tabloids would get het up about), but some juicy themes blaze away underneath the overall conceit – namely the fragility and futility of human life.

Which brings us to the candles – every character carries one as a symbol of their own mortality – death brings a sudden extinguishment of flame. While their use rises slightly above gimmick-level (the clear phallic implications are also apt in a play where sex is exclusively portrayed in a destructive, aggressive context), they are often clean, unassertive objects that flit across the stage pretty inconsequentially. Then again, many characters, bumped off after a mere matter of lines, also feel equally unsubstantial.

Christian book-ends both acts with new musical numbers (one involving an unorthodox story of an unbirthing rabbit) performed by the show's ensemble with a meta-theatrical mania ("Torture porn but more artistic...this is Shakespeare's Globe, not HBO."). Through a hasty conclusion, the production sidesteps morality in favour of abject nihilism.

One of the strongest aspects of the show has to be the cast – from Lucy McCormick's irate emperor Saturninus (think the lovechild of Aegon and Joffrey, Game of Thrones fans) through to Beau Holland (who plays eight characters, all of whom meet a grizzly end) stealing scenes even when playing the aforementioned fly. Katy Stephen's tortured titular Titus is a stoic presence, playing it pretty straight in a show that is chock full of bells and whistles.

It reminded me, to some extent, of a fleet all-female version of the show staged at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years back. There, instead of candles the cast used paint pots, the gore came from splatterings of red loquid.

This Globe version, replete with some wry reflections on our desire for shock entertainment and the catharsis it brings, seems to have more matter with less art.