Titus Andronicus

Wellington Performing Arts Centre, Wellington

04/12/2009 - 07/12/2009

The Compleate Workes Project

Production Details


After the celebrated seasons of Spring Awakening and The Crucible, thirteen young actors of Long Cloud Youth Theatre present Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare as part of the Compleate Workes of Shakespeare Festival. Shakespeare’s most blood thirsty spectacle will be performed at the theatre of Wellington Performing Arts Centre (36 Vivian St); 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th December @ 7.30pm, on Sat and Sun also 3pm.

In a world where war is common place, children take arms and madness takes control, Titus Andronicus is more relevant than ever. Through its relentless horror, the undeniable poetry of human tragedy emerges in full force, demanding we examine the very root of violence and judge its various acts. Titus Andronicus begins with the great Roman general, Titus returning home victorious after a long and brutal war with the Goths. His first act is to ritually sacrifice the eldest son of the Goth Queen, Tamora, his prisoner. However, when the corrupt Saturninus is made Emperor and surprisingly makes Tamora his queen, a new battle ensues as Tamora, and then Titus, enact a tale of double revenge.

Long Cloud Youth Theatre, run by Wellington Performing Arts Centre, is a unique training and production company for young people aged 15-21 years. The Company gives young actors the means to enhance their theatrical skills through practical performance experience and the opportunity to work with Wellington’s foremost theatrical directors and tutors. The program is led by award winning teacher and director Willem Wassenaar. Award winning actress and director Sophie Roberts tutors the students throughout the program.

Venue:  Wellington Performing Arts Centre
36 Vivian St, Wellington
4th, 5th, 6th, 7th December @ 7.30pm,
on Sat and Sun also 3pm $15/$10
BOOK NOW PH: 04 238 6225 or
EMAIL: longcloudyouththeatre@gmail.com  

Joe Dekkers-Reihana, Liffey Jacobson-Wright, Anthony Young, Anna Harcourt, Alisha Tyson, Estere Dalton, Vanessa Cullen, Johanna Cosgrove, Michael Boyes, Robert Hartley, Felix Borthwick, Tai Berdinner-Blades, Hayden Frost.

Designed by Andrew Foster
Dramaturgy by David O'Donnell 

2hrs 30min, incl. interval

A vivid and visceral critique of human behaviour

Review by John Smythe 05th Dec 2009

If we took Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first tragedy, as being a literal depiction of Roman life circa 4th century BC, we’d have to accept that the titular warrior had 29 sons (25 of whom died in war) and one daughter, and that Tamora (Queen of the Goths) managed to go full term to be delivered of her slave/lover Aaron’s bastard son without anyone noticing. Yeah, right.

In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, controversial American literary critic Harold Bloom wrote: “The young Shakespeare delighted himself, and his contemporary audiences, by both mocking and exploiting [Christopher] Marlowe in Titus Andronicus: ‘If they want bombast and gore, then they shall have it!’ seems the inner impulse that activates this bloodbath, the Shakespearean equivalent of what we now respond to in Stephen King and in much cinema.

“I would hesitate to assert that there is one good line in the play that is straight; everything zestful and memorable is clearly a send-up. That judgement would now be disputed by many scholars, whose response to Titus Andronicus rather baffled me. Thus Frank Kermode rejects the suggestion that the play is burlesque, though he concedes that “farcical possibilities” are invoked.” (p 78)

A little later he writes, “An aesthetic defence of Titus Andronicus is possible only if you centre it upon Aaron, its most Marlovian character, and if you regard the entire play as a bloody farce, in the mode of Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.” (p 80)*  

Such tales are as old as storytelling itself. In Act IV sc 1, Lavinia (the daughter of Titus), who has been raped by Tamora’s vengeful sons then had her tongue and hands severed so she cannot tell, uses Ovid’s Metamorphoses to hint at what’s befallen her, which may also be Shakespeare’s way of attributing one of his sources.  And in the 21st century so little has changed in terms of man’s humanity to man that its enduring relevance can be heard, given the right tone.

Thankfully Willem Wassenaar and his Long Cloud Youth Theatre ensemble eschew the ‘comedy of violence’ approach, although they do use a heightened reality device that allows broad characterisations and theatrical conventions to clearly demonstrate how utterly degraded human behaviour can become.  

Their premise is a bit like The Neverending Story in that a child (an intensely focused Felicity Milovanovich) imagines the story into three dimensions and becomes involved in the action. Here s/he takes the role of Lucius son of Lucius, grandson of Titus and matures in the process, if that’s the right term for moving on from being boyishly excited by heroic battles into being traumatised by the downstream effects of them. Thus theatricality delivers reality.

Designer Andrew Foster’s cascade of calico serves as the canvas upon which the tragedy is ‘painted’, the screen upon which shadows play to great effect, and the pale expanse upon which Lavinia spits her blood: the one bit of visible gore that proves the adage ‘less is more’. And most of the cast wear pyjama trousers, presumably to link them into the child’s waking nightmare.

Titus wears a black singlet while the two Roman political factions wear red or blue soldier’s jackets redolent of Britain’s 19th century colonial forces. Tīrou (sticks) are the principle weapon (cf. the David Lawrence directed, Allan Henry fight-mastered  Henry V and Henry VI part 1), with the faintest touch of taiaha suggested at times, along with one pukana grimace from Titus. I’d have liked to see that aspect developed more but perhaps it was seen as ‘can of worms’ territory, dramaturgically, to get too specific with it.

Joe Dekkers-Reihana takes Titus almost gently into the dying of his sanity, avoiding bombast for a deeper-felt and almost bemused rage at the atrocities that transcend anything he has seen in war – although it had to be said that he and Lucius (his son) started this downward spiral by seeing a son of Tamora hewn of his limbs and thrown on the funeral pyre of the ‘noble’ dead in the name of religious sacrifice.

Tai Berdinner-Blades excels as Tamora, ensuring we understand her anguish before she opts for apparent expediency as the trophy wife of Saturninus, who scores the Emperor’s throne when Titus turns it down (Act I, sc 1). And as her ‘para-moor’, Aaron, Anthony Young opts for chillingly amoral objectivity rather then the embodiment of tortured evil.

Other roles have been rehearsed by two actors each and about 5 minutes before the show starts a random ballot lets the audience decide who will play which.

Thus, on opening night, Michael Boyes played Saturninus with the quality of a privileged and immature English prig (sort of George W in the manner of Tony Blair, perhaps) and Anna Harcourt kept the action grounded as Marcus Andronicus, tribune of the people, while Hayden Frost and Robert Hartley embodied testosterone-driven chaos as Tamora’s surviving sons Demetrius and Chiron.

The ensemble work is exemplary, with everyone fully focused on each scene. One ingenious device sees them all being Goths on one side of the city wall, shooting their arrows, then Romans an instant later, reacting to the sticks scattered at their feel.

At key moments we in the audience are cast as the Roman senate; cast in stone, according to the text, as we confront our roles in this corrupt political landscape.

A vivid and visceral critique of human behaviour, still all too relevant to ‘modern man’, this Titus Andronicus caps a remarkable year of Compleate Workes project productions. It’s only on until Monday (2 shows Sunday) – catch it if you can.
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*Thanks to John Marwick for helping me source these quotes.
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Anna Harcourt December 6th, 2009

Hi John, thank you so much for your insight and opinion on Titus! Just one thing, the season actually goes until Monday (7th), not Sunday.

[Fixed now - thanks Anna. JS]

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