For those unfamiliar with the play I must indulge in some spoilers. I say must, because to enter into the space without an awareness of some of these spoilers is potentially uncomfortable for some audience members. In sharing a story which transfixes on a brutal rape; plus extreme violence and mutilation, some sort of heads up for the unsuspecting is necessary. My first criticism is that this is something that could have been handled better, be it through some sort of signage of potentially triggering content or communicated via the staff at the box office.
That said, director Ivana Palezevic does a careful job in ensuring the audience does not get overly bogged down amongst the darkness. In what feels like a production which largely keeps the fourth wall in place (supported by a more theatrical choice in lighting, designed and operated by Crystal Ski), several of the most delightful moments come when the audience are actively asked to engage in the world through props. I loathe to give spoilers here, but the giggling and tittering in the room are sure signposts that these devices were a success.
Furthermore, Titus is a show which Palezevic and the excellent cast render fully understandable. It can be undeniably easy to get lost amongst cousins and uncles and brothers-who-are-sisters-in-disguise in a Shakespeare, often made only more confusing by casting actors in multiple roles. Titus avoids this, which is a testament both to the clarity of the costuming (Frankie Allard) and the performances. It is clear hard work has been put in to create an ensemble of distinct characters, making good on the old cliche “there are no small parts, only small actors”. What little stage time some characters get (Zoe Joblin’s Nurse springs to mind here) has no detrimental effect on how fully fleshed out they are. These bit roles do much to aid the zapping energy between the principal roles, in particular the simmering dynamic between Titus (Scott Ransom), Tamara (Isobel Mebus) and Saturnine (Sean Fleming). Villains Aaron (Shaneel Sidal), Demetrius (Allen Murrell) and Chrion (Jono Harris), also share a similarly tight chemistry, however their slickness is laden with such an unapologetic evil the flesh can’t help but crawl with every line.
Whilst there were moments of stickiness and blunders, I anticipate a tightening up once the cast raises its confidence post-opening. The pace certainly picked up during the second half, and the Goth dance party that took place onstage during the interval may have helped loosen some nerves - though I do feel sympathy for the actors who are already bearing the strain of a two hour show.
If my main concern upon taking my seat was the gruesome subject matter, at the end of it all, I must admit it does fly. Palezevic refuses to shy away from the visceral nature of her subject, and whilst this can be confronting for the audience member, it’s difficult not to admire the boldness in even beginning to depict the very real trauma of sexual assault. In a painfully long scene in which Lavinia (Palezevic) stumbles, broken and directionless, around the stage, it strikes me that this rendition of Titus most strongly stands as a cold refusal to ignore the vulnerability and loss of power faced by sexual assault survivors. We are not allowed the opportunity to look away, to distract ourselves amongst the fine print of the what’s and why’s and how’s. Instead we are forced to look unflinchingly at the victim, the voice so often lost amongst our discussions of sexual assault.
Titus Andronicus is on until the 30th of April at 8pm, at the Whitireia Performance Centre.
DISCLAIMER: Whilst I do have personal relationships with several members of the cast, this review aims to be as unbiased as possible in an attempt to provide all involved in the process with useful feedback.