This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub
There are innumerable risks with staging Shakespeare outdoors in Britain. Rain, wind, cold, heat, improper seating – all can be a real pain in the arse for both audience and performers. The BRIT School’s all-female production of Titus Andronicus, which is one of three Shakespeare plays presented in Brighton’s Pavilion Gardens during the festival, has to do battle against a cacophony of background noise. It is victorious (just about), and emerges as a lean, mean tragedy tied together by a strong visual concept.
The large cast, clad in rags and clutching bamboo canes for weapons, take just over an hour to sprint through Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. They swap roles as they go (which becomes a little confusing, to be honest) and, although there are a few pedestrian moments, manage to imbue the whole thing with an engaging creative energy throughout. The many, many deaths are understandably a little underwhelming, but then it is difficult to make a brutal murder impact on an audience when there are crowds of schoolchildren cheerily milling on the nearby grass.
We are treated to an impressively impassive Titus (before the role is handed over, that is), who rejects Tamora’s pleas and slays his own son with a haughty cruelty. Tamora’s plotting, lustful sons are enjoyably alien, tilting their heads like serpents in anticipation of raping a timid Lavinia. There is also an appropriately stroppy as Saturninus and, perhaps because his devotion to destruction is one of the few constancies in this turbulent Rome, a perversely likeable Aaron.
The direction is imaginative and neatly symbolic. A vat of red dye sits centre-stage, into which characters are routinely immersed when they are killed or maimed; the buzzing of flies – fattened on carnage, one assumes – sporadically invades proceedings via concealed speakers; and scenes play out like ethereal rituals on a sparse, post-apocalyptic set. On the whole, it’s a powerfully bleak vision of a play in which powerfully bleak things happen. It struggles to shine light on Shakespeare’s searing themes against the hubbub of the Pavilion Gardens, but it’s imaginatively staged and competently acted by a group of talented young drama students.