Title: Titus Andronicus
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Yaz Al-Shaater
Performed by: Smooth Faced Gentlemen
Cast: Ariane Barnes, Olivia Bromley, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Ely Condron, Lia Burge, Ashlea Kaye, Helen Coles, Emma Nixon
Seen at: Greenwich Theatre
Review: Following a bloody war with the Goths, Romans return home with prisoners but without an emporer. Titus Andronicus is appointed, but he refuses. Saturninus is appointed emperor, and he says he wants to marry Titus’ daughter, Lavinia. Lavinia and her lover/Saturninus’ brother object, so Saturninus takes Tamora, the queen of the defeated Goths, as his empress. Throw in her two sons, her lover, and her desire for revenge (fair enough, considering within the first five minutes of the play, her eldest son is cut up, despite her pleadings), and you have Shakespeare’s bloodiest play... here performed with an all-female cast and a lot of red paint.
I was very excited to see this. I read Titus a few years ago, and wondered how it could be done on stage what with...everything. I saw a cinema screening of the RSC production where they did it very realistically, which was pretty good. And then I saw this.
Everybody has the same costume as a base-black trouser, white shirt, and braces. Coats and props are used to differentiate major characters from eachother, but even without these, you can tell when people are playing different characters.
This was cast perfectly! Ariane Barnes is a strong Titus, being the right mix of funny in some places and and emotional in others. Anita-Joy Uwajeh plays Aaron with a distinctive style that I couldn’t pin down but which one of my friends said was mythical and magical. Elly Condron is Lavinia, who makes you form an emotional connection with her depsite her losing her tounge about a third of the way through ,and having what seems like quite a few of her lines cut. Olivia Bromley’s Tamora is coldhearted, but you can feel the power coming off her. Everybody was very talented and embodied their character(s) wholly, changing styles as they changed character, especially considering Helen Coles and Ashlea Kaye’s characters were completely morally opposites (Chiron and Lucius for Coles and Marcus and Demetrius for Kaye). And on a less serious note, Lia Burge’s Saturninus telling Emma Nixon’s Bassianus “Sir, you are being very short with us!” was wonderful.
They kept the tone right. From my reading of Titus, I enjoyed the humour (and it does come thick and fast, with Shakespeare taking the sass levels high), to contrast with the horrors that the play contains. It comes through in this play, but as I said, it allows suitable tenderness in the scenes with the Titus family, completely in contrast to Aaron’s casual attitude to demanding a hand in return for the exchange for sons, the moments when Titus suggests names of Lavinia’s attackers, and the background Goths passing round Aaron’s child and their different attitudes to him while serious things happen in the front.
I am completely in love with this staging. There’s white screens, behind which the characters change (sometimes), and paintpots at the front. The strictly held colour scheme of black, white, and red, with silver and brown accents, and the replacement of knives and swords with paintbrushes and rollers made it look a bit surreal, which allowed them to do all kinds of gory things on stage. It was a brave decision to do Lavinia’s mutilation on stage, but they made it work so horrifyingly well. Accompanying music was provided by the actors singing, and they did it very well, holding their lines while also effecting scene changes and such, although it did seem a little random, only happening at some scenes and not others.
It’s very fast. I think they cut about an hour’s worth of lines, which is a shame, especially when Lavinia and Bassianus had brilliant lines before they lost the ability to speak, but it was still easy to follow and enjoy, and we kept some very good monologues.
There could be political/feminist discussions over having an all-female cast, especially considering there's only three canonically female characters, and the really terrible fate of one of them. I'm not going to discuss that, because regardless of their gender, all eight actors conveyed the characters and made them real.
Overall: Strength 4 tea to a slick, brilliantly acted performance. Can’t wait to catch the Smooth Faced Gents (possibly again in Titus, definitely again in Othello) up in Edinburgh!