EFR - Reviews of Titus Andronicus: an all-female production

Titus Andronicus: an all-female production

Wed 5th August – Tue 1st September 2015

reviews

Holly Willis

at 22:27 on 11th Aug 2015

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The Smooth Faced Gentleman’s bloodthirsty version of Titus Andronicus has the audience laughing, gasping with shock, and even physically recoiling in their seats. This ambitious all-female production is pulled off with outstanding flair and finesse, not to mention a whole lot of gory violence. It is enthralling, repulsive and hilarious all at once, but bear in mind: this show is not for the faint-hearted, and it is certainly not for the squeamish.

The acting is of such a professional standard that it is virtually impossible to pick out one actor as being noticeably good or bad. The cast form a cohesive unit throughout, with perfectly synchronised movement sequences and beautiful, haunting singing adding yet more layers of complexity. Particularly memorable performances include Sharon Singh’s poignant portrayal of the savagely muted Lavinia, almost animalistic in its vulnerability, and Emily Bairstow’s frosty, scheming Tamora.

The cast achieve the almost impossible in managing to make a play as bloody as Titus Andronicus at times hysterically funny. Even in her bloodied state, Singh makes Lavinia’s attempts at revealing her attackers amusing complete with much teenage eye-rolling and exasperation. The Smooth Faced Gentlemen masterfully tailor Shakespeare’s at times impenetrable script to their advantage, drawing laughs from lines that were probably never intended to be remotely comical. These witty moments provide welcome relief from the bloodshed and suffering, and ensure that the audience’s attention never wanes even for a moment.

The set is simple and at the same time ingenious. An entirely white background combined with numerous pots of red paint makes for a very messy ending. The idea of using paintbrushes rather than swords is innovative: not only are characters murdered with a swipe or stab of red paint, but these are used for writing and even for feeding the helpless Lavinia. The characters really do live and thrive on blood, and there is no escape from the grim violence that permeates every moment of the play. Some scenes are so visceral and aggressive that it is hard to remember that it is only paint smeared all over the characters and set. In this case it is not the pen, but the paintbrush, that is mightier than the sword.

This production is utterly stellar from beginning to end, and the curtain call saw the audience erupt into cheers. Each cast member sings, moves, acts and multi-roles to perfection. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket (and you pride yourself on having a strong stomach), then definitely go see it. You won’t regret it.

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Liam Marchant

at 09:36 on 12th Aug 2015

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Considering it has the highest body count of any Shakespeare play, Titus Andronicus, as presented by The Smooth Faced Gentlement, is surprisingly funny. Between sawing off hands and guzzling down dubious pies, the cast regularly make the audience laugh with clever reworkings of particular lines and stage directions. Squaring up to Bassianus (Hannah Morley), who is noticeably taller, Saturninus (Terri Reddin) claims “sir: you are very short with us” before becoming inhibited with a bout of self-consciousness. Throughout the production the cast clearly seem as though they are enjoying themselves; a pleasure in their own performance, which is truly contagious.

Despite the fact that this is an all-female production, it never feels as though the play is defined by the gender of its cast. Anyone who sees this performance will be struck more by Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s inspired use of panel screens in recreating the Roman Empire than by their common XX chromosomes. Though Lavinia (Sharon Singh) asks if there is “no grace? No womanhood?” when wandering through the forest, the production is possessed of both – but most obviously the former. I feel as though this is a minor act of rebellion by the theatre company against the sometimes reductive ‘women’s play’ label – the cast and crew preferring instead to be recognised for their excellent performances than for their gender.

Henri Merriam dominates as the play’s eponymous tragic hero, storming round a set which bears an uncanny resemblance to Patrick Bateman's apartment in American Psycho. The play does well to defy a production history smeared in ketchup blood as each stabbing or throat cutting is enacted with paintbrushes drenched in red slime. The brushstrokes are vicious, quick, and messy; leaving an ominous trail of blood in the wake of every murder.

It doesn’t help that Shakespeare felt the need to have most of his characters declare “Oh no! I am slain!” before kicking the bucket, but each death is performed tastefully in Titus Andronicus: an all-female cast, whilst still satisfying the audience’s bloodlust (or mine, at least).

This is a first-rate production which will leave one grappling with terror, excitement, and (for the faint hearted) queasiness.

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