As one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most violent plays, it’s all too easy to play on the darker tones of Titus Andronicus. Yet Arrows and Traps have strayed so far into “edgy” territory that their production is a total cliché.
Empty, minimalist staging? Check. Modern rock soundtrack? Check. Scaffold set? Check (it’s even placed too far back, obscuring the audience’s view). Fringe theatres may be small and compact, but the black box of the New Wimbledon Studio should be used as a blank canvas, not a backdrop.
Further, the setting is a confused mix of Roman military might and a dystopian future; in total it bears more resemblance to The Hunger Games than anything. This is clearly an attempt to make the play more relevant to a modern audience, but the result is a jumbled tone. The opening political battle is accompanied by clever use of video, but this is then underused in the remains of the play; soldiers are trained by Titus using Wii remotes in one particularly odd scene; and Young Lucius sends arrows on a mock Facebook that’s meant to be political satire but just comes off as a bit silly. Juxtaposed with militaristic movement and sword fighting, the production never hangs together as a coherent whole.
This lack of lucidity extends to the acting. On a basic level some lines are garbled, though Cornelia Baumann stands out as Marcia Andronicus for displaying excellent diction. By contrast, Spencer Lee Osborne goes too far with an overwrought and over-enunciated delivery as Aaron, though he clearly revels in the character’s Machiavellian playfulness. Then there’s Remy Moynes’ Lavinia who speaks little at all but delivers a touching performance. As the main players, Elizabeth Appleby’s Tamora and Matthew Ward’s Titus lack stage presence, Ward especially either whispering or shouting his lines. And Annie McKenzie’s Clown is given a more prominent role as she shuffles around the periphery with her pigeons, but the character makes little sense in the context of the play.
It’s the blood that most people remember, but here the company struggle with the balance between horror and humour. The po-faced, overly-serious speeches of the first few acts eventually make way for an amusingly gruesome end that lacks the dramatic intensity the earlier scenes lead towards. The final pie-eating scene soon descends into a pantomime of blood, death after death littering the stage with bodies. Rather than a darkly comic revenge plot, this Titus just feels a bit daft, lacking originality and sophistication.
Watch: Titus Andronicus runs at the New Wimbledon Studios until 14th November.