Peter Ormerod reviews Titus Andronicus, presented by the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford
It’s a notoriously tricky play to get right. There’s tragedy upon tragedy, death upon death, blood and more blood. How then to stop it tipping over into comical absurdity?
Blanche McIntyre’s production adopts a novel and highly effective approach to this conundrum. In foregrounding the comedy from the outset, we are spared any uneasy laughter. No, the laughter here is very easy indeed - which just makes the horror all the more horrifying.
The play, set in Rome, is here given a sharply contemporary look, with tracksuits, hoodies and mobile phones. There are allusions to the 2011 riots and anti-capitalist protests. That none of this jars or feels forced is a tribute to the relaxed conviction of the cast and the unrelenting inventiveness of the direction. It’s a production brimming with ideas but never swamped by them.
But key to its success is David Troughton. His Titus brings an emotional gravity to a play that in lesser hands can be an empty gorefest. And the sight of his daughter Lavinia (Hannah Morrish) in the aftermath of her rape and mutilation is truly horrifying; revenge seems an entirely apt response.
Here, that means killing the rapists, putting their remains in a pie and feeding it to their mother. Revenge, we learn, is a dish best served with a side salad. It’s a little touch that sums up this stormingly impressive show.
* Titus Andronicus runs until September 2. Call 01789 403493 to book.