Sitting through Shakespeare’s bloodiest play was always going to be an uncomfortable experience but with recent headlines at the forefront of my mind this performance made shocking and disturbing viewing.
In all of Shakespeare’s tragedies you expect plenty of blood loss, anger, sorrow and death and in Titus Andronicus they came in epic proportions.
The play begins with Roman general Titus returning victorious from a war with the Goths, bringing with him Goth Queen Tamora, her three sons and Aaron the Moor (her secret lover) as prisoners.
Titus slaughters Tamora’s eldest son to avenge the deaths of his own sons during the war. Tamora and her two surviving sons, Demetrius and Chiron, then embark on a plot to take revenge on Titus and his family.
The grisly and often barbaric scenes are plentiful and this is perhaps why the play has for much of its life been written off for being too grim to perform.
There are few scenes without violence but it is the appearance of the beautiful Lavinia after being mutilated by rapists which is most shocking.
And whilst director Michael Fentiman has captured the many disturbing elements of the play, he also brings out moments of humour, too.
The rather limp character of Roman Emperor Saturninus, wonderfully performed by John Hopkins, delivers some comedic scenes, including a moment where his bath time is interrupted by a shower of arrows.
The final bloodbath scene also raised much laughter from an audience who had for most of the evening been pinned to the edge of their seats to bear witness to the horrors suffered by Titus and his family.
Rose Reynolds, who makes her RSC debut this season, is excellent as the mutilated Lavinia and there are strong performances from Stephen Boxer as Titus and Katy Stephens as the evil Tamora.
A grim and gory tale.
Running time two hours, 45 minutes. Until October 26.