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Titus Andronicus

“Titus” is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known and least performed plays and also has a reputation for being the bloodiest.  It is a fictional account, set loosely in a late period of the Roman Empire during a conflict with the Goths.  Titus Andronicus is a Roman general who has just defeated a Gothic army and captured its queen, Tamora, and her sons, Alarbus, Chiron and Demetrius.  The theme is mainly “revenge”, first by the Gothic queen and her sons against Titus and his sons and secondly by the Andronicus family (the Andronici) against the Gothic queen turned empress, her sons and the tyrannical emperor, Saturninus.
I didn’t know the play, so I read it in advance of watching this production.  Reading a Shakespeare play cold, so to speak, gives only a limited insight and so I was really interested to see the highly experienced BOAT company put flesh on the bones.  I was not disappointed.
The production opens with a skirmish between the Romans and the Goths and this is where we first see some of the weaponry in use in this production.  Most of the weapons, I am assured, are real and potentially deadly.  Full credit has to go to the fight choreographers Richard Batt and Peter Beebee, but also to the members of the cast who wield these things so convincingly and (tonight at least) without any real injuries.  Particularly of note is the fight between Chiron (Sebastian Mersey) and Demetrius (Aidan Alexander), in which they each wield two swords.  Later on we see some real archery, in which Young Lucius (Ethan McDonnell) shoots arrows into a thankfully up-stage (away from the audience) target.
Lavinia (Olivia Israel) evokes both horror and pathos as she staggers around, traumatised by her ordeal and injuries, in her blood-soaked dress – she does well to keep it up for several scenes.   The principle male “Andronici” – Jamie Morris, as Titus, Bob Rankin, as Marcus and Brian Woolton, as Lucius are universally powerful and convincing while Kieron Solf makes a suitably tryannical emperor Saturninus, but can sound rather screechy in his rantings.   Kelly-Anne Singleton is well cast as the Empress, Tamora, and fits well with Chiron and Demetrius – all showing a casual disregard for their victims.  The boys are both young but their ages are appropriate to the parts; on the other hand I thought that Conor Gardner, as Aaron, is perhaps too young and lacks gravitas and conviction.  Aaron is the Machiavellian schemer of this play, who orchestrates most of the villainy – the lines need to be delivered more deliberately and with more malice and contempt.
The multi-level stage design allows for both the pit, which is essential to the plot, and two elevated positions from where the orators address their public and the villains observe the fruits of their scheming.  The sound effects throughout, delivered by 8 speakers around the auditorium, allow for the baying calls of the Roman crowd behind us, sounds of approaching armies and the like.  Dramatic drum-beats compound the tension and I love the hollow booming sound when somebody dies (and a lot of the cast do die).   It is remarkable what BOAT can achieve technically during these few weeks in the Summer – transforming what, for most of the year, is just a grassy dell into a sophisticated, modern performance venue.
I wondered how entertaining this bleak tragedy was going to be but in the end it was very good indeed.  It is a long show; it never drags but don’t expect to be home before midnight unless you live really locally.  It is not without humour and I think most of the audience came prepared for blood and even laughed, ghoulishly, at some of the dispatches.  There are, apparently, almost as many deaths in “Richard III” – which will be next year’s BOAT production; I look forward to it.
Subject to the continuing good weather there are 7 further performances between now and the final showing on the 10th (contingency 11th) August.
Whether or not you have been to Brownsea before, this is a good year for it.