Award-winning RSC actress Katy Stephens has already played a female Russian cannibal, now as Tamora, Queen of the Goths in Titus Andronicus, she has taken on another ‘meaty’ role. Catherine Vonledebur reports.
Sitting inside the RSC’s Rooftop restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon, actress Katy Stephens sips a Bloody Tamora.
The deep purple cocktail made from pomegranate juice, crushed ice and vodka, is garnished with slithers of sinister–looking shaved liquorice.
“It’s really nice,” she confesses, before taking a bite out of a Titus pie, cooked up by RSC chef Nick Funnell.
Two new specials on the menu at the restaurant have been inspired by her character – Tamora, Queen of the Goths, in Shakespeare’s most violent play, Titus Andronicus.
Every night on stage Katy eats a pie – but her character Queen Tamora is unaware of the gruesome ingredients.
Diners have nothing to fear as Nick’s pie is filled with nothing more than steak and kidney, with vegetables. He said: “Titus is a little-known play but it is somewhat notorious for the ‘cooking’ that goes on in the final act. This pie is a light-hearted nod to that.”
In the rarely-performed early revenge tragedy Titus, Rome’s most honoured general, returns from wars against the Goths with their queen, Tamora, her sons and her lover, Aaron the Moor, as prisoners.
Katy, who lives in Coventry, says: “It’s a very gory play, but as always with Shakespeare it’s about so much more. It’s a story of revenge.
“At the beginning of the play Titus and the Romans have sacrificed her first-born son. She is enraged and vows to take her revenge
“It’s about an addiction to revenge and what happens to people when they become engulfed by revenge.”
Katy said director, Michael Fentiman, ran a “very warm rehearsal room”.
She said: “I have known Michael for quite a long time. He’s a very good director and he’s so young. He’s just hitting 30.
“The setting of the play is timeless. We have worked very hard with the text. Michael’s trying to bring it back to what the play is really about – honour and revenge.
“It’s not just a bloodbath. It delves into the psychological. Why was this kind of brutality happening when the play was written in 1593? And why is it still happening now?
“Lavinia’s rape and mutilation is a war crime. It’s a very poignant piece. The idea of racism is very strong in the play. The Romans were terrific snobs; they thought every race was beneath them.”
Titus Andronicus is Fentiman’s directing debut at the RSC.
After graduating from Mountview’s MA Theatre Directing course, he worked as an assistant director to Michael Boyd and Rupert Goold at the RSC for three-years.
One of his early directing jobs was the adult Christmas comedy, Crackers, at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry in 2011. “I am delighted to return to the RSC, my stomping ground for three wonderful years as an assistant director,” says Michael.
“Titus Andronicus is cult Shakespeare, lesser known yet unforgettable for those who have seen it performed; an unsettling, blackly comic, revenge tragedy that has been met with shock, contempt and excitement in equal measure throughout its history.
“I am proud to bring together a cast and creative team of the very best young bloods and experienced RSC regulars. It’s a great pleasure to be working with Stephen Boxer, an actor I have hugely admired for some time, and there is a wonderful sense of coming full circle by bringing Katy Stephens into the company after working together as part of Michael Boyd’s last long ensemble.”
As a member of that ensemble, Katy won best actress for her powerful portrayal of Joan Of Arc in The Histories at The Roundhouse from whatsonstage.com, the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Ensemble Performance and the Evening Standard Editor’s Award in 2009.
She went on to give electrifying performances as Rosalind in As You Like It and Regan in King Lear at the RSC.
Last year she was Kate in Calixto Bietio’s Forests at Birmingham Old Rep, Laura in the Belgrade’s acclaimed production of Strindberg’s The Father and the wicked Fairy, Carabosse, in Sleeping Beauty at The Belgrade. She also appeared in Theatre Absolute’s Arcade, as part of the Coventry Mysteries Festival.
But Katy said her latest role, as a mother whose children are sacrificed as revenge, was having an effect on her own 12-year-old son, Louis.
“My real son is a little unnerved. I’ve already played a cannibal – he came to see me in that,” she says, referring to The Grain Store at the RSC three years ago, in which she played a Russian cannibal called Flesheater.
But Louis does not seem to have been put off acting by his mum’s bloodthirsty acting roles and is a member of drama group EGO Performance Company in Coventry.
“It’s not just a youth theatre – the oldest member is in her 80s and there is EGO Rocks for musicians. It’s great,” says Katy.
* Titus Andronicus is at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until October 26 2013. Tickets: 0844 800 1110