If young William Shakespeare had been schooled on the films of Quentin Tarantino, he might have written a play like Titus Andronicus. In fact Shakespeare modeled this early tragedy on the baroque revenge plays of the Roman tragedian Seneca. Titus is bloody, violent, and vicious.
Kim Collier’s Bard on the Beach production is just bloody brilliant.
In Titus Shakespeare tried out a key theme he would develop in Hamlet—the dangerous morality of revenge. But young Shakespeare was less interested in morality than in theatrical sensationalism. In this play plots generate counterplots, violence begets worse violence, and revenge produces nastier, more elaborate acts of vengeance that spiral insanely out of control: rape, murder, amputations, beheadings, and a grisly culinary device. Amid the general carnage our noble hero Titus Andronicus kills two of his own kids.
Collier meets Shakespeare on her own terms. She stages the play in modern dress but never shies away from graphic violence. And not just the buckets of stage blood make it so powerful and immediate. A superb cast, terrific pacing, imaginative direction, and vivid design add up to a riveting, stomach-churning evening.
The play begins with conquering General Titus (Russell Roberts) arriving back in Rome with Goth Queen Tamora (Jennifer Lines) and her family as prisoners. Titus is convinced by his sons to murder Tamora’s daughter. Bad mistake. After some bizarre plot twists result in Tamora marrying Roman emperor Saturninus (an astonishing Simon Bradbury), she wastes no time hitting back at Titus and his family, including his daughter Lavinia (Julie McIsaac). Tamora uses her vicious sons Demetrius (Charles Christien Gallant) and Chiron (Kyle Rideout) and her Machiavellian lover Aaron (Omari Newton) as her attack dogs.
The acting couldn’t be better. Lines and Newton, Gallant and Rideout are magnificently evil. Roberts and McIsaac together are so affecting they almost make you forget how nasty Titus himself can be. Allan Morgan as Titus’ sympathetic brother and Bob Frazer as his warrior son also do fine work. Naomi Wright and Colleen Wheeler excel in smaller roles, and young Julien Galipeau shows remarkable poise as Titus’ grandson.
Christine Reimer produces dozens of the most magnificent costumes ever seen at Bard, especially Tamora’s amazing Cruella de Vil outfits and the Goth punkwear of her sons. Peter Allen’s sound design provides perfect accompaniment to the action, from cinematic melodrama music to disco. Nicholas Harrison choreographs a breathtaking fight between the two Goth brothers. Collier uses John Webber’s lighting to cast monstrous shadows of these monstrous characters. But she doesn’t lack humour. When Titus and family go hunting, they don’t forget their Starbucks.
If you’re not put off by Blood on the Beach, don’t miss this Titus.