Fringe Review – Titus Andronicus

It is wonderful to hear good words being said by good actors. When the words are Shakespeare’s you’re halfway to happiness, but he alone could not win a relay. So with this review I celebrate the victory of the Smooth Faced Gentlemen, who seized the Bard’s baton and ran like devils, to this spectator’s joy.

Titus Andronicus is a play of pure emotion and grisly, pulpish fun. Dichotomies like that aren’t easy to handle, but the hands of the Gentlemen were sure. Francesca Binefa was sympathetic and exasperating as the toddler-ish Emperor Saturninus, playing the fool with just enough ham. Madeline Gould (the vengeful Empress Tamora) needs more monologues. The time constraints of an hour long performance cut her speeches short, but just those snippets showed she was born to grandstand. A gift for multitasking is on display too, with Ashlea Kaye and Stella Taylor (Tamora’s sons) nailing both Shakespearian dialogue and vile bro-culture at the same time.

Henri Merriam has the most thankless role in Titus: Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists rarely get to be fun. Yet she is august, and when acting in concert with Leila Sykes’ Lavinia (whose face the horror of rape never leaves) she darkens the room with her sorrow. By contrast, Vivienne Acheampong is all cool, suave evil as the machiavel Aaron. The minimalism of her monologues, delivered slowly with just a hint of spiteful mockery, had me shivering with delighted chills. She was also admirably patient when her all-white audience got squeamish over a 16th century pun on skin colour

All this talent was well-supported by the show’s design. Titus Andronicus is a play drenched in metaphorical buckets of blood, a fact approached very literally by the designer. Instead of fake swords, all the Andronicus actors were armed with brushes, regularly dipped in buckets of red paint. As such, by the play’s end, clothes, walls, floor and faces were all liberally spattered with gore, the perfect aesthetic for such a messy play.

An hour is not really enough time for Shakespeare.  Now and again you could feel the production hurrying, particularly at the beginning. Still, when you’re playing the Fringe such limitations are inescapable, and it speaks to the Gentlemen’s credit that the show’s main flaw was due to a format beyond their control. Otherwise, they were thoroughly successful. Leaving the theatre, I all but skipped along to my next show, my mood made ecstatic by this union of great words and excellent performers.

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