Venue: theSpace @ Venue45
As one of five versions of Titus Andronicus being performed at the Fringe this year, Tripped Theatre’s adaptation differentiates itself by casting a male actor (Angus Ryan) as Lavinia and having female actors (Sarah Warham and Georgina Wilmer) play Lucius and Chiron. The company also discards several of the play’s subplots, offering a streamlined version of Titus Andronicus that lasts just under an hour. These alterations pose some interesting questions about how we interpret Titus Andronicus and react to what happens in it, most notably the rape of Lavinia. However, Tripped Theatre don’t engage deeply enough with the issues they draw attention to. The result is a lacklustre and unsatisfying take on Titus Andronicus.
It’s a pity because the show begins with striking visuals. The stage is bathed in red light and Titus (Thomas Barry) lies down on the stage clutching a knife in one hand while the other characters – with the exception of Chiron and Demetrius (Angus Bower Brown) – stand behind him with blank expressions on their faces. Zoe Biles commands the audience’s attention as a subtly menacing Tamora as they wait for the show to begin, tilting her head to one side in a taunting manner.
Unfortunately, Tripped Theatre’s production often lacks the emotional urgency you’d expect from Titus Andronicus. Several scenes feel unusually static due to the lack of physical interaction between the actors and it’s hard to believe that the characters would become so fixated on revenge when they don’t appear to share a particularly close bond in this production. Thankfully, the cast get better at establishing an emotional connection with each other as the play progresses. However, it would have been interesting to see Tripped Theatre think more carefully about how changing certain characters’ genders affects the dynamic of their relationships, particularly the rivalry between Chiron and Demetrius and Chiron’s attitude towards Lavinia.
One of the reasons why Tripped Theatre cut out parts of Shakespeare’s text was so that they could concentrate on Titus’ story. However, Thomas Barry’s portrayal of the play’s titular character is too simplistic and he’s often overshadowed by the supporting cast members. Wilmer does a brilliant job of conveying Chiron’s insecurity as well as her depravity whereas Bower-Brown’s Demetrius is nowhere near as nuanced. On the other hand, Warham shines as Lucius, striking exactly the right balance between compassion and fierce strength. However, Robert Bit is rather forgettable as Bassianus and his character’s relationship with Lavinia isn’t as convincing as it needs to be.
The modern nature of the cast’s costumes give the production a fresh look but the monochromatic colour scheme – the Goths are dressed in black – adds a touch of painfully obvious symbolism that reduces the moral ambiguity of the play. Tripped Theatre rightly tries to capture the comic elements of the play but often go too far in their attempts to do so. Saturninus (Gavin Pattison) is needlessly characterised as a gormless fool while Biles’ portrayal of Tamora verges on pantomime during the second half of the show. The ending is strangely anticlimactic, with the use of music during the fight between Titus and Saturninus detracting from the suspenseful nature of the scene. This is a version of Titus Andronicus that struggles with subtlety and feels under-rehearsed – two cast members appeared to trip over one of the blocks on stage on the night I saw it.
Titus Andronicus will always be a difficult play to stage, but Tripped Theatre’s version is a disappointingly flat production from a company you’d expect more from.