The designer William Dudley drapes the stage in black fabric and adds a canopy that blocks out the sky. This increased intensity, along with showers of dark confetti, emphasises the sense of an uneasy alliance between the funereal and the celebratory as Douglas Hodge’s Titus Andronicus appears, fresh from defeating the Goths.
Hodge’s barking, staccato delivery and substantial, graceless, soldierly stance suggest a military man ill at ease in civilian life and out of his depth in the struggle for power and vengeance into which his return to Rome immediately plunges him. The horrors he handled so adroitly on the battlefield seem somehow, obscenely, to have followed him home. Blinded by blood and at a loss, he embraces violence with perverse delight.
Much of this is deliciously, nastily funny. Having slaughtered Tamora’s sons to bake them in a pie that she will eat, he pops an orange into their mouths.
During the stomach-turning banquet that follows, he bounces on his knee his raped and mutilated daughter, Lavinia, who, shrouded in white, resembles a grotesque, jiggling doll. It all accentuates the hideous stupidity of the play’s ghastly game of tit-for-tat, in which sex and power politics collide lethally. Combined with a more acute sense of the characters’ agony, it would be devastating.
Geraldine Alexander’s witchy, rage-filled Tamora has a voice like ground glass and a deadly sensuality. She’s well matched by the spiteful boyishness of Patrick Moy’s Saturninus. As Lavinia, Laura Rees begins the play as an ice-maiden and object of lust for the jeering Roman mob, jostling among the groundlings.
Later, violated, her hands and her tongue cruelly cut away, she stumbles into view drenched in blood, flesh dangling from her hacked wrists, moaning and keening, almost animalistic. It’s the production’s most powerful symbolic image, redolent of the dehumanising effects of war.
Throughout, Django Bates’s thrilling score sears and thunders by turns. This is dynamic, involving theatre. Yet, however freely the red stuff flows, it’s not quite full-blooded.
Box office: 020 7401 9919
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