Originally published on A Younger Theatre
Shakespeare400 has seen a breadth of work come to London in honour of the great Bard’s death; from churchyards to leading theatres, actors young and old have paid their tributes to the plethora of his masterpieces. Luvas Theatre Company and Time Zone Theatre bring their contribution as a collaboration that sees performers from five different countries around the world. Jung Han Kim’s interpration of Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy sees Titus Andronicus fused with contemporary themes in the classic Tudor theatre The Rose Playhouse. This is a play that looks to explore its playwright in multiple dimensions but ultimately focusses on the concept to the detriment of paying true homage to the text.
Titus Andronicus (Charles Sandford) is a renowned Roman general who returns to Rome victorious from a fearsome campaign against the Goths. His prisoner Tamora (Laura Hopwood), queen of the Goths, and her sons are his gift to the recently crowned Roman emperor Saturninus (Sunny Yeo). In thanks, the emperor declares that he will marry Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Miranda Shrapnell), although she is betrothed to Saturninus’ brother and contender for the throne Bassianus (Fiona Battersby). Needless to say the fraternal relationship becomes frayed, until the situation is quashed when the emperor marries the Goth queen instead. The resulting tensions cause mutilation, rape, cannibalism and murder aplenty as Tamora secretly vows to exact her revenge for the defeat of her people.
Kim’s concept of contemporary movement and style stands out in stark contrast to the exposed beams and Tudor walls of its home. The blessing of this theatre being in mid-renovation confers immense potential to play with depth and layering, which Kim fails to take suitable advantage of. Acknowledging its presence, the action seemingly moves backwards for one cursory scene before returning to its more intimate staging that, if nothing else, envelopes the audience wholly in the action. The actors themselves display mixed capabilities both within Kim’s modern vision and in interpreting the classic Shakespearean prose. From solemn burial hymns to animalistic hunts and ravages, Kim takes a number of brave risks which on many fronts are left wanting in their execution. The intention is there, as is the emotion – bestial and raw mutilation scenes, passionate and hedonistic sex scenes, ritualistic and crazed fights all serve to bring the words to life with new meaning. But all too often the elements themselves are found without conviction, lacking clarity and hence becoming somewhat flat and pointless.
The production is additionally flawed in the more traditional sense – whilst Sandford, Hopwood and Tendai Humphrey Sitima who plays Tamora’s secret lover, Aaron have a confident grasp over the metre and pace of the text, the remaining cast are less capable of bringing those scenes to life. Saturninus (Yeo), Bassianus (Battersby) and Lavinia (Shrapnell) are memorable for the wrong reasons and filler actors David Couter and Mark Curley aren’t sufficient to tip the scales in the cast’s favour.
Shakespeare is known for including gender fluidity in the original staging of his works, so it is refreshing to see it come full circle in arguably his most feminist of plays. Women taking men’s parts, women taking charge, a true example of the Bard’s relevance 400 years later. From plainchant and Renaissance hymns, both women and men join forces to produce a chorus that should elevate the poignant scenes to new heights with resonance and meaning. Kim’s production has unique conceptual thinking, but without the cast capability these lofty heights are never quite reached.
Titus Andronicus is playing The Rose Playyhouse until 30 July 2016. For more information and tickets, see The Rose Playhouse website.