13/03/2016 - 20/03/2016
29/05/2013 - 08/06/2013
Within a barren wasteland where only brutality equates power, a tribe of scavengers clamber among the debris to find anything to help them recount the story of a legend – Titus Andronicus and his mutilated daughter, Lavinia.
In this lost boys’ fantasy of war and seduction, all repercussion is abandoned in a struggle for power – encapsulating the one thing we all know but fail to learn from – that revenge is a childish pursuit.
This explosive, all-male, adaptation of Shakespeare’s most acidic work is told at break-neck speed by seven courageous actors.
After a sell out season at Unitec, new theatre company Fractious Tash (Fringe Rogue Award Winners, Wellington 2012) is proud to collaborate with Q, with the support of the Wallace Arts Trust and Unitec, in presenting this vibrant new take on a classic.
This is Shakespeare as you have never seen.
“…storytelling at its best.” (Theatreview)
Titus is part of the Q presents programme, a joint venture between Fractious Tash and Q. Find out how you can support Q in initiatives like this here.
Attending TITUS? Join the Facebook event page here.
Wednesday May 29 – Saturday June 8 2013
Tues – Sat, 8pm
Sun 2 June 7pm
Sat 8 Jun, 4pm & 8pm
Ticket price: $22 – $30
Pop-up Globe Theatre, Bard’s Yard, 38 Greys Avenue, Auckland
Sun 13 March, 7:00pm
Mon 14 March, 7:00pm
Thu 17 March, 8:00pm
Sun 20 March, 1:00pm
Sun 20 March, 7:00pm
2hrs 30mins including interval
Tickets from Eventfinda – eventfinda.co.nz
Lighting Design: Michael Forkert
Sound Design: Jin Shin
Props: Gayle Jackson
Costume construction: Madison-Leigh Wright, Kristen Sorrenson, Suzanne Sturrock, Jade Berg
Originally produced and performed at UNITEC Performing and Screen Arts
Produced by: Fractious Tash
Review by Nathan Joe 15th Mar 2016
Originally staged as a Unitec graduate show with an all-male cast in 2012, and subsequently revived at Q Theatre in 2013, Titus returns for a third time at the Pop-up Globe. While I can’t speak for the quality of the previous seasons, I can safely say that you won’t see a more accessible version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus onstage any time soon.
Titus has always sat awkwardly in Shakespeare’s output, considered to be a minor work. T.S Eliot once called it “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.” And while the content of the play, including (but definitely not limited to) infanticide, cannibalism and rape, is hardly enlightening, anyone willing to watch the play has to accept that it is pure bloodsport. [More]
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Review by Lexie Matheson 15th Mar 2016
It’s been said that Titus Andronicus is an awful play. It’s a horrible story, that’s for sure, both difficult to believe and to comprehend, and why anybody would want to stage it at all beggar’s belief. Having said that, I’m really glad Benjamin Henson and his seven sterling chaps have gone out of their way to do so because what they’ve created is damn good theatre, it’s as simple as that.
The production was already good when it was staged in 2013 at Q Theatre with all the lights, sound, bells and whistles that are available in a state-of-the-art indoor space but if anything it’s even better in the raw, urbanesque surroundings of Miles Gregory’s extraordinary Pop-up Globe.
The hugely successful seasons performed so far in this dazzling facsimile of Shakespeare’s ‘Wooden O’ include an all-male Twelfth Night, a mixed gender Romeo and Juliet, a cross gendered Much Adoe about Nothing, an all-female Henry V, and Benjamin Henson’s earlier offering, the University of Auckland’s highly acclaimed Summer Shakespeare production of an also mixed gendered The Tempest. We can now add a small cast, all male Titus, based, most effectively indeed, on Shakespeare’s grand guignol horror show Titus Andronicus.
It’s a singularly appropriate concept in that it sits somewhere between Game of Thrones at its most blood-spattered and a nightmarish parody of The Bachelor sans anything that vaguely resembling a rose. It’s a love story of the very worst sort.
The setting itself can loosely be described as ‘apocalyptic’ with a hint of urban brutalism and it all weds beautifully with the scaffolding and roughhewn timbers of the Globe facsimile, particularly when you embrace the unwavering probability that there will be sirens, circling helicopters and grunty V8s on the roads nearby. These aural commotions, traditionally unwelcome in live performance, seem, in the case of Titus, to provide a perfectly aligned auditory distraction and we’re not bothered by them at all; quite the reverse, we simply incorporate them into the texture of the work.
Henson’s conception takes us to what looks like an abandoned construction site with two worn, sloping planks centre, a couple of aluminium ladders and an expanse of see-through, close-weave garden netting, torn irregularly asunder to create cave-like entrances. We can, intentionally, see the beginnings of what might happen next.
As is always the case with a Henson production nothing – and I mean nothing – is as it might be and thank the heavens for that. It keeps us ever on our toes while never deviating too much from ‘the purpose of playing’.
We enter the theatre 10 minutes before the advertised show time and the actors are already on stage engaged in big-boy play. In a seemingly perverse burlesque of the game of rugby where the ball is a much maligned toy bear, violently competed for by these fine young rugger-buggers, we immediately become engrossed, almost hypnotically, by the actions of these perfectly proportioned young men.
Outfitted in a variety of black singlet’s (some torn), black shorts, shin and knee pads attached with duct tape, these athletes take no prisoners in their various attempts to win a seemingly never-ending game. Between the two planks towards the rear of the stage one player is being physically restrained by two of his associates. He breaks free and makes and attempt to snatch the bear and is stoutly set upon by his fellow actors thereby setting in place a threatening physicality that permeates the rest of the evening.
The actors also wear black eye makeup in a range of clown like forms and the whole thing feels as in tune with its core as ‘Mad Max’ did the first time round.
At the conclusion of this belligerent Entracte one of the men morphs, by means of some carefully attached gaffer tape, into the character of Tamora, and the Queen of the Goths (Cole Jenkins) is born.
All of the above, and indeed most of the ensuing two hours, is played out to the fluid accompanying sounds of the Caribbeanz Southern Stars Steel Band whose contribution to the evening, a backing track to the life of the play, is quite superb.
By this time we meet Tamora the almost full auditorium and excellent smattering of groundlings ia fully engaged.
We meet Titus (an impressive Paul Lewis) and note that an item of wrist armour separates him from the rest. In the type of obdurate gesture that only Shakespeare could magic up, Titus names Saturninus (James Roque), the son of an earlier ruler, as Emperor. Saturninus, not to be out-done in the weird decision stakes, chooses Tamora to be his queen and we have the doubtful pleasure of witnessing the consummation of their marriage at the back of the stage as the action continues in the front. It’s worth noting that all the sexual activity between the characters is immediate and uncensored which pleases the groundlings greatly (and the rest of us too, if I’m honest).
We are then entertained by a handsomely-staged holiday song and dance full of gold chains and spectacles with flashing lights, and for the very first time, we meet Tamora’s secret lover, the Moor Aaron (an excellent Jason Hodzelmans).
Sticks serve as swords and, boys being boys, there is some very funny action where the sticks double as penises, some of which are snapped off and broken to the extreme mirth of the groundlings. In one of those transcendent moments that only happen when things are going seriously well, a snapped off penis is thrown into the audience where a groundling nonchalantly catches it and throws it back, only to have it caught, as though it had been perfectly rehearsed, by the actor who originally threw it. The audience erupts with pleasure and I can’t help thinking that this could only happen in a configuration like that of the Pop-up Globe, so again, well done Miles G!.
Until the entrance of Aaron, the production has already been more than interesting but Hodzelmans arrival, bedecked with bright scarlet horns, sees the whole thing shift into another gear from which it never deviates.
The Pop-up Globe is a unique space and actors often find playing to five levels in the round challenging indeed but this cast succeeds better than any other so far in connecting with everyone present.
Some very funny racing with small stuffed dogs on sticks is followed, almost immediately, by Tamora leaping, full frontal, onto Aaron’s shoulders with her groin right in his face. There follows some very explicit (and seemingly expert) cunnilingus which reduces the audience (and Tamora) to near hysteria in what is a perfect instance of the crass also being in the best of all possible taste. During this exercise I sneak a glance sideways at my thirteen year old son who looks for all the world as though he is about to claw his own eyes out.
Tamora instructs her sons Demetrius (David Sutherland) and Chiron (Jason Wu) to kidnap Lavinia (Eli Matthewson), daughter of Titus, and to “away with her and use her as you will.” Thus the seal is set on the rest of the play. Bassianus is murdered, his body dumped unceremoniously through the open trapdoor centre stage, into the pit, and Lavinia’s fate is sealed. A shopping trolley with Lavinia in it is wheeled in and tipped on its end and we see the horror first hand of what has been done to her. She has been continuously raped and, to ensure that she does not speak, or write, the names of her attackers, her hands have been cut off and her tongue cut out.
As if the plot is not bizarre enough, three tiger masked, white boiler-suited personas trip onto the stage displaying signs reading ‘time out’ which heralds a fifteen minute interval before delicately, and in perfect time, tripping off again.
After the break – in which wine, beer and ice creams are consumed in abundance and during which I am reminded that Shakespeare’s cockpit was also used for bear baiting – Lavinia, her mouth gagged with silver duct tape, black blood running down the inside of her legs, her wrists now black-wrapped stumps, crashes us back to the reality of the horror of the plot.
It’s a production that features some extraordinary highs and none more powerful than Titus’s discovery of his mutilated daughter. A second occurs in the moment when Titus sacrifices a hand in a futile attempt to save the lives of his already dead sons: a brutal action carried out with a small fretsaw accompanied by the scrapping sound of saw blade on bone; an act which clearly proves too much for one audience member standing close to the stage who faints.
Until then the audience has found the mayhem surprisingly funny but the awfulness of the amputation and the subsequent arrival of bags containing the heads of Titus’s sons is sufficient to quiet them. To then see another audience member collapse and having to be assisted instantly mutes the laughter.
The sounds of the siren and the flashing lights that can be seen throughout the theatre when the ambulance arrives are strangely appropriate and, while the production never misses a beat, the groundlings are speedily joined by two highly skilled paramedics who effectively remove the first causality, still distressed, on a wheeled gurney.
Titus and Lavinia, in a moment of genius, produce a large stick of chalk which Lavinia clasps between her teeth and she etches the names of her attackers on the floor of the Wooden O stage. Actor Lewis is at his absolute best when he informs us “I have no more tears to shed” and we realise at this moment that whatever happens next is going to be horrible beyond belief.
As if all of this isn’t enough to turn the stomach of the hardiest witness, Tamora gives birth to Aaron’s mixed race son, a devil with red hair, a banner saying ‘Fuck You’ is dropped from one of the Lord’s Rooms by two masked characters, and the whole thing take on the air of a grotesque circus. Small toy planes are launched, the Goths arrive at the gate and the new born baby is callously hung from the scaffolding.
Titus, no fool despite what he’s been through, is aware of the identity of a disguised Tamora and her masked sons, as he sets about hatching a plot to kill them both and to have their ground up bones baked into cupcakes which, in a grisly comic banquet scene, he feeds to their mother Tamora and to Saturninus before he kills them too.
The end of the narrative sees the stage, as with all such ‘lamentable tragedies’, strewn liberally with bodies. After a perfunctory speech to explain all, the actors rise, pre rigor mortis, to perform a charming, short burgamasque dance which is immediately followed by a curtain call and thoroughly earned riotous applause.
Henson’s production of Titus is simply a tour de force. Paul Lewis as Titus makes a success of one of Shakespeare’s most thankless roles and Jason Wu (Chiron) and David Sutherland (Lucius/Demetrius) do everything that is asked of them and more. They’re physical, intelligible and articulate.
The ‘women’, Eli Matthewson as an excellent Lavinia and Cole Jenkins as an horrific Tamora, are magnificent. They make no attempt, beyond a certain satisfying campery, to represent real women, and considering the nature of the narrative, this is an important choice.
James Roque as Saturninus sustains the narrative effectively but, for me, the star of the evening is Jason Hodzelmans in the twin roles of Bassianus and Aaron. As Aaron in particular, Hodzelmans excels and his physicality and magnificent delivery of the text see him shine even above the surrounding excellence. It matters not one single damn that he is the lightest skinned Moor in the history of the English speaking stage, we accept everything at face value because his commitment to what he does is so uncompromising.
It’s not unreasonable to say that Titus Andronicus is an impossible play to stage in 2016 with any degree of credibility, but Henson, with his magnificent seven, his brilliant concept and his smart adaptation, has managed it with seeming ease. It’s as though this production was born to be seen on this stage at this time and in this place so perfect is its execution.
You would be wise to book now for Titus or you will be forever disappointed that you did not engage with this outstanding production. It’s simply that complete.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A bold reflection on human depravity
Review by Paul Simei-Barton 31st May 2013
Director brings great clarity to Shakespeare’s complex drama, with all-male cast filling demanding roles
It is never difficult to find contemporary events that point to the relevance of Titus Andronicus, but Shakespeare’s reflections on the extremes of human cruelty are given particular poignancy by the recent murder of a young soldier on a London street.
The play is filled with murder, rape, mutilation and cannibalism, but the production by Unitec graduates avoids any gratuitous violence and builds an almost overwhelming identification with the victims.
The script has been skilfully truncated to a harrowing 90 minutes that brings great clarity to the convoluted narrative while preserving the extraordinary power of Shakespeare’s language. [More]
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Vital, immediate and provocative
Review by Norelle Scott 30th May 2013
Titus is a bold, inventive, and arresting production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, at times shocking, horrifically cruel, blood thirsty, and disturbing.
The actors burst onto the stage while the audience continues to drift into the theatre and take their seats. With the house lights still up, a physical prologue plays out before us, a kind of ‘All Backs meets Lord of the Flies’ exploration of masculine physicality, posturing, and power play. A male actor has black kneepads bound to his chest as the last few audience members scurry across the front of the stage and slip into place. Just at the point of discomfort at our lack of anonymity, the house lights are suddenly cut and we are plunged into darkness.
The setting is apocalyptic, a dystopian world that in its universality, is both ancient and contemporary. This production owes much to the ‘in yer face’ theatre of Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill, but in its ruthless cruelty and its visceral dissection of human nature seen through relentless driving causality of power, lust, greed, duplicity and misguided revenge, it is pure Shakespeare.
From its bold and arresting opening, the play jitters slightly in the initial set up scenes while the plot is established and those of us who don’t know the play get our heads around the doubling in the casting. There is charm in the use of dolls and puppets, manic energy in the dancing scene at court, and the inventiveness of the production is evident.
Once the plot is hatched and the innocent Lavinia wanders into the forest, the tragic relentless chain of events is set in action and the production really takes flight.
The highly tuned ensemble work of the cast is evident in the prologue and epilogue. While this is clearly an ensemble piece some performances are worthy of special mention.
Paul Lewis is stunning as Titus. Vocally commanding, he handles tragic pathos and the blackest humour with authenticity and precision, expertly and seamlessly taking us with his character on a rollercoaster of human emotion. His portrayal of sanity in madness is riveting.
Cole Jenkins is articulate and delightfully duplicitous as Tamora, convincingly delivering a female role. Similarly Eli Matthewson embodies Lavinia in a performance rich in physicality and Jason Hodzelmans delivers his dual roles with clarity and integrity.
Some of the production’s most powerful moments are created though ironic juxtaposition and black comedy. The use of music, song, and sound effects, both recorded and live, have me grimacing, recoiling, gasping with shock, and laughing out loud. The connection between emotion and sound is tangible and arresting. The sound design by Jin Shin is striking.
As the play intensifies, and the language becomes a force to be reckoned with, the power of sound and human voice delivers a theatrical transcendence that is sublime.
The set (Brian Maru) features towers that echo Punch and Judy, framing an ironic puppet play with hands. There are crevices out of which dark creatures crawl, and boards that proclaim the names of the rapists. Every aspect of the set design is vital, functional, and symbolically resonant.
The costume design (Madison-Leigh Wright) is clever; performative and transformative: a skirt becomes a singlet, a singlet peels away to reveal bare flesh.
Benjamin Henson’s direction is inspired, bold, assured and authoritative. This is a production unified by a powerful vision.
My only concern is that while all involved are clearly aware of the original play Titus Andronicus – with its dramatic plot, archetypal characters, powerful language and evocative imagery – the author’s name is surprisingly not present in the credit list in the programme, nor is he given the accepted ‘written by’ credit on the publicity material. Other than the sub heading, “Shakespeare’s most acidic work – on acid”, there is no indication of the playwright’s authorship. Clearly the script has been radically edited down and ‘re-imagined’ in its performance but this is Shakespeare’s work and the absence of his writer’s credit is a glaring omission that needs to be rectified.
Brutal as the play and this production are, this is a production that I would highly recommend to a teenage audience (as well as an adult audience), for its exuberance, intensity, and passion. Everyone should see a production of Shakespeare this vital, immediate and provocative.
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We’re all going to hell
Review by Matt Baker 30th May 2013
Presented as the telling of the Titus myth through the perspective of a pack of post-apocalyptic lost boys, director Ben Henson has once again created a visual feast of a production. Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s most highly criticised works, written by a young playwright in an attempt to keep up with the bloody writings of his contemporaries, but with time, a suitable setting, a comradely cast, and a highly stylised director, the play can achieve a value that both confronts and combats its criticisms. This is mainly due to the fact that it could not be accepted in the ‘civilised’ Victorian age, whereas on opening night of Fractious Tash’s production, some of the audience laughed as Lavinia was brought in post assault. As New York post journalist Jonathan Foreman once wrote, “It is the Shakespeare play for our time.”
The show is a reprisal of an all-male student production at the UNITEC School of Performing And Screen Arts in 2012, and the transition to the Q Theatre Loft affords it a slight, yet effective, breadth in space and, consequently, physicality. The set, designed by Brian Maru, is a virtual wasteland playground, and allows the actors to play their game with various uses of height, width, and depth. Props, by Gayle Jackson, also cater to the boyish play fighting, with wooden sticks and tattered toys, the latter of which generates a great amount of symbolism. Madison-Leigh Wright’s costumes make for easily identifiable characters and switches between the double casting, the makeshift style working cohesively with the set and props. Michael Forkert’s side and foot lighting provides the actors with an array of shapes and shadows, enhancing the physicality of the show with a haunting quality. [More]
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