STRONG ALL-MALE COMPANY PLUMBS THE DEPTHS
adaptation of Titus Andronicus
by William Shakespeare
directed by Ben Henson
at Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland
From 2 Jun 2012 to 9 Jun 2012
Reviewed by Adey Ramsel, 3 Jun 2012
In turns shocking, violent, gripping and haunting, this all-male and edited version of Titus Andronicus fires on all cylinders.
Running a little longer than its promised 80 minutes, this is storytelling at its best. Through workshop, traditional technique and, I imagine, rehearsal-based improv, director Benjamin Henson brings all his theatrical trademarks to bear, proving there is more than a little of Peter Brook about him.
It may help to know the plot line behind what is generally considered Shakespeare's ‘worst play' but if you were not equipped I doubt you would fall far behind.
This is as strong a company as I've seen, each taking turns to support another from the back line. This makes the play less about Titus actually and more about the whole, which in itself is not a bad thing. I doubt Paul Lewis as Titus would mind, being in the middle of a company of equals. Indeed it would take a rare talent to outshine this band of seven.
To give each his due: Lewis's Titus is menacing and creepy. With a hint of macabre there's a touch of Richard O'Brien about him and not just in appearance. Cole Jenkins as Tamora is a joy to watch develop. From captured Queen of the Goths to sly bitch of the Emperor's bed, Jenkins has the pulse of this woman. He delivers a subtle and praiseworthy performance.
Jason Wu and David Sutherland as bad boys Chiron and Demetrius add a spark of humour and playfulness, with Sutherland adding a nice warrior stance to his portrayal of Lucius.
Jason Hodzelmans has the dual role of Bassianus and Aaron. The first has never been one to shine, in any production, being the Emperors wet brother but Hodzelmans has the pay-off of playing Aaron, the scheming Moor, and it is a sly villain we see at work. The editing has the Moor's comeuppance mentioned but not shown, a victim of a time restraint but something I did miss.
James Roque brings a consistency to Emperor Saturninus, delivering finely tuned characterisation as each emotion overwhelms him in his transitions from spoilt ruler to frightened schoolboy.
Lastly, but certainly not least, a young man who gave me one of the best images of the evening: Eli Matthewson. As Lavinia he is cute; as raped and mutilated Lavinia he is daring, bold and full of pathos. As she reveals the names of her attackers, producing each letter in the ground with sheer agony and need, we are quiet. It is one of the more chilling moments I have spent in a theatre – we know what's coming, we saw it happen, we know who's guilty, which makes the revelation even more nerve tingling. Kudos here to all involved and especially Matthewson for his well-paced agony.
Being a workshop process you can see the reasoning and conviction behind each scene and positioning. Moments such as Chiron and Demetrius lying upon their own names as scrawled by their victim were, you can imagine, met with cries of “Yes, Yes!”
Imagining the process of what would have occurred behind this production adds to each moment's deeper sense of purpose. Each character and line has a reason for being and each actor has justification for being there.
Much is made in the programme that this is the first time Unitec's Performing & Screen Arts has been able to assign a complete student design team to the task of production. If this is the calibre of 3rd year Unitec students then the future of theatre bodes well.
Brian Maru has designed a set that is effective, simple and most importantly suits the production (an easy observation to make but not an easy set to design!). Costumes by Madison-Leigh Wright, again simple, blend with just the right touch of simplicity. Michael Forkert must have studied all departments well for his lighting design. It highlights, focuses and has impact. Jin Shin's sound design is in your face, at times shocking and to the point. Effective.
In a production such as this there is no right or wrong, it's merely a question of whether you like it or not. Whether you enjoyed it or not. I did. Big time.
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