What: Titus Andronicus
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
When: 30th May 2013
Perhaps, before I begin this review, I have to make a confession, Titus Andronicus is one of my favourite plays in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. Whilst other reviewers see it as being out of step with contemporary tastes, I have written quite extensively about its resonance with contemporary mores and issues. So whilst others were surprised to see it included in the RSC’s current season, I was pleased and excited to see it there. And I have to say that this production did not disappoint but lived up to all my hopes and expectations.
The heart of its success is the performance and appearance of Rose Reynolds as Lavinia, Titus’ daughter, who manages to appear angelic and beautiful before her despoiling and then mutilated, physically plain and spewing blood afterwards. This is partially the work of an extremely successful costume and makeup department but Ms Reynolds manages to carry off the two halves of this role in a way that should not be underestimated. She is eloquent and poetic in the first half, grotesquely silent and awkwardly gesturing in the second.
If it is a female actor who is the most successful of the Roman half of the cast then it is also a female that is the best of the Goths. Katy Stephens as Tamora, Queen of the Goths, is a towering success. But whilst Rose Reynolds is in her debut season for the RSC, this is only the latest of a great number of successes for Ms Stephens which have spanned several years. The high point of her success was perhaps her lead role in As You Like It, a couple of years ago but she brings much to Titus Andronicus. One note though, whilst the costume department adds to Ms Reynolds ability to carry off Lavinia effectively, they threaten to undo Tamora with a series of increasingly overdone costumes and elaborate hair designs.
If the female part of the cast carry the laurels, they come home strongly supported by the male half of the cast. Stephen Boxer as Titus and Richard Durden as Marcus give an effective and solid account of the Andronicus brothers. The rest of the Roman half of the cast do what is required of them and keep the drama flowing and the audience engaged.
Throughout the play, Aaron (Kevin Harvey) and the young villains, Demetrius (Perry Millward) and Chiron (Jonny Weldon) are presented to the audience as being decadent and repugnant. They take part in orgies, loll around taking drugs from small polythene bags and plot and carry out the rape, assault, and maiming of Lavinia. You are left with a feeling of deep enmity towards the characters which almost spills over to disliking the actors and the way that they take on the roles – until the viewer realises what an accomplishment it is to evoke this reaction from the audience. They are much more than pantomime villains. They seem like the real thing.
So ultimately we have a production of Titus Andronicus which is relevant to today without trying to plant the play in the 21st century, which has many strengths and no major flaws and which is a second recent success for the RSC which is re-finding itself after a period when nothing much they did seemed to work for this reviewer.