FOURTEEN killings, severed limbs, rape, cannabalism, a live burial – this is Shakespeare showing Tarantino how it should be done.
Shakesperean scholar Jonathan Bate points out the bard’s early revenge tragedy, in its interrogation of humankind’s capacity for cruelty and destruction, is very much a play for today, in an internet age where we are daily exposed to power-struggle conflicts around the globe, and where pornography, much of it often violent, is available at the click of a mouse. Necessary and welcome bag searches at the RST itself was an instant reminder of the times in which we live before a word had even been spoken on stage.
The play is certainly far from the most poetic in the canon. It’s all about the action – with apparently an atrocity committed every 97 lines.
Interestingly the RSC has chosen this Titus for a little experiment of its own to see if Shakespeare still has the power to shock audiences today (see the story below).
Watching the RST audience during director Blanche McIntyre’s modern dress, modern day production – on a rather uninspired set – it was perfectly clear Shakespeare still has the power to stir the emotions. There was certainly a good number who watched through splayed fingers – all that I witnessed it has to be said were of the female of the species (men being men they were more inclined to just wince).
On the other hand there was a little lad of around 12 in the front row who seemed to revel in the gore. While no doubt a perfectly well-adjusted child, he was physically stabbing the air and leaning forward with glee as throats were cut and heads rolled. Surely this rapt reaction proves one thing for sure – Shakespeare still has ample power to simply enthral.
And this is an enthralling production, with a strong cast. For all the horror it is not gratuitous. The auditorium was as silent as Lavinia (Hannah Morrish) herself as she struggled back on stage after her ordeal at the hands of wide-boy Mafia-like henchmen Chiron (Luke MacGregor) and Demetrius (Sean Hart).
There are also plenty of lighter moments among the bloodlust, and the raping and dismembering brothers’ serving up in a pie – at the death as it were – to their unsuspecting mother Tamora (Nia Gwyne) is pure comedy, as David Troughton’s impassioned Titus marches around the stage in full chef gear.
The results of the RSC’s shock experiment will be interesting.
Titus Andronicus runs September 2. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.
DOES Shakespeare still shock? – that is the question the RSC will seeking to answer during its new production of Titus Andronicus.
Titus Andronicus is renowned for being Shakespeare’s goriest play. The the body count quickly piles up and the blood flows during the revenge tragedy, which runs at the RST in Stratford until September 2 as part of the RSC’s current Rome Season.
During the Blanche McIntyre-directed production, an innovative audience research project will be conducted in collaboration with Ipsos MORI to monitor the emotional engagement of a theatre and cinema audience.
It aims to explore if Shakespeare does still shock, and whether the emotional engagement of watching a play live at the theatre is the same or different to that of watching it live at the cinema.
The RSC will recruit a sample of participants who will wear a heart rate monitor on their wrist throughout their experience of watching the play.
There will be two groups, a sample of theatre audiences who will watch the show at the RST, and a second group will watch the ‘Live from Stratford-upon-Avon’, broadcast of Titus Andronicus in a cinema when it is streamed live on August 9.
The two groups will be demographically matched based on age, theatre experience and gender to achieve a comparable set of results.
As well as monitoring their heart rate as they watch Titus Andronicus, the participants will immediately after the show complete a series of short interviews, to explore the strength of reaction and engagement.
There has been previous research around the impact of cinema broadcasts, but this will be the very first time there will be direct measurement and comparison of the emotional experience of both theatre and cinema audiences for a Shakespeare play.
The results and findings from the project will be released in November.