We’re all going to hell [by Matt Baker]
Presented as the telling of the Titus myth through the perspective of a pack of post-apocalyptic lost boys, director Ben Henson has once again created a visual feast of a production. Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s most highly criticised works, written by a young playwright in an attempt to keep up with the bloody writings of his contemporaries, but with time, a suitable setting, a comradely cast, and a highly stylised director, the play can achieve a value that both confronts and combats its criticisms. This is mainly due to the fact that it could not be accepted in the ‘civilised’ Victorian age, where as on opening night of Fractious Tash’s production, some of the audience laughed as Lavinia was brought in post assault. As New York post journalist Jonathan Foreman once wrote, “It is the Shakespeare play for our time.”
The show is a reprisal of an all-male student production at the UNITEC School of Performing And Screen Arts in 2012, and the transition to the Q Theatre Loft affords it a slight, yet effective, breadth in space and, consequently, physicality. The set, designed by Brian Maru, is a virtual wasteland playground, and allows the actors to play their game with various uses of height, width, and depth. Props, by Gayle Jackson, also cater to the boyish play fighting, with wooden sticks and tattered toys, the latter of which generates a great amount of symbolism. Madison-Leigh Wright’s costumes make for easily identifiable characters and switches between the double casting, the makeshift style working cohesively with the set and props. Michael Forkert’s side and foot lighting provides the actors with an array of shapes and shadows, enhancing the physicality of the show with a haunting quality.
The cast works very well as an ensemble, with each actor shining in their own way without distracting from each other. Paul Lewis finds an incredible clarity in the capriciousness of the titular general, which is no mean feat, and relishes the third act of his character’s journey with total abandon. It is a joy to watch Lewis make the most of his moments, without becoming indulgent, and portray that which is not said. Likewise, Jason Hodzelman’s Aaron is endowed with a perspicuity that, even without his final soliloquy (and unaccounted demise), permeates a Machiavellian psychology. James Roque, however, lacks the instrumentality of Saturninus, finding instead the humour that is planted deep within the script and often under-utilised. David Sutherland is brilliantly cast as both Lucius and Demetrius, as we rely on these two roles to convey plot points in the more extreme poetry of the piece. Sutherland has a great grasp of the language, and is fully engaged in the given circumstances of the play. Cross-gender casting is skillfully handled by Cole Jenkins and Eli Mathewson as Tamora and Lavinia respectively, with both men bringing a femininity to their roles without pushing either the internal or external elements too far. Jenkins portrays the dramatically ironic folly of Tamora, without playing the end, and manipulates his words as much as those around them. Mathewson honours the functionality of Lavinia, offering a generous amount of pathos and perplexity with both the text and lack there of. Jason Wu rounds off the cast as Chiron, whose ostentatiousness is nicely juxtaposed by Sutherland’s Demetrius.
Casting is ninety percent of a director’s job, and, while there are usually restrictions and compromises made in drama schools, these boys just seem right for Titus. Henson is a fantastic spectacle director, which is exactly what is required when producing Shakespeare today. The downside to this is that, while not relying on these elements, some moments feel glossed over, and lacked grounded given circumstances in which the actors could anchor themselves to find a more accurate and honest delivery. The world of the play, however, is firmly established, and gratifies the nature of what is, quite simply, a bloody good revenge story.
Titus is presented by Fractious Tash and Q Presents and plays at Q Loft until 8 June. Details see Q.