OUR FIRST GUEST REVIEWER! GALLANT LUKE JONES BRAVES THE BLOOD, SPIT AND RAIN.
Oh how it poured. With the large strips of black, makeshift roofing not covering but neatly channeling the rain onto those below. Tensions were high before the play even begun; one which would be quite a trial for the groundlings. Towers wielding men were flung across the floor into them, clouds of smoke enveloped them, blood, wine and spit flew across them; they were getting their £5 worth and then some.
All this fight and fluid is what partly makes Lucy Bailey’s production, originally staged in 2006, ripe for revival. She delivers a bloody, crowd-drawing and ragingly camp evening. Rather than opting for the severe and grief-stricken, it is all about hamming up the gore, explaining away curious character motivations and plot twists with wry glances and lashings of stage blood.
The great Titus Andronicus has triumphantly returned from war only for his family to be ripped apart – quite literally – by the fierce Got- turned-Empress Tamora and her cruel sons. William Houston is verging on the ridiculous as Titus. It is as if he has been bussed in from the Butlins production; twitching, jerking and over- egging every single line. But he is the only flat note in an otherwise terrific evening. Indira Varma is a twisted delight as the savage turned polite mistress with a thirst for blood. ‘Be ruled by me’ she gigglingly barks at the weasly Bassinius (her husband), played with a quieter, more enjoyable variety of camp by Steffan Donnely. The rogue and psychopathic Aaron (Obi Abili), nails the perfect combination of crowd pleasing joker and dark murderer by which William Houston ruins. Ian Gelder wonderfully holds the more serious voice of the play as Marcus Andronicus and Flora Spencer-Longhurst is nothing more that suitably shrieky as raped Lavinia.
The violence is largely playful, although at least 3 fainted (‘Faint-hearted boy, arise’) and many more left as the ravished Lavinia limped onto the stage, her hands and tongue removed. But this particularly horrific moment, plus a rather excruciating rear-end stabbing, are the exceptions. Most of the deaths and the splashes of blood play out like a Tarrantino Panto. The audience practically cheered as body after body thudded to the ground. Before the play began, the lightly rouged wood of the stage – weary from previous performances – brought giggles of excitement from all around. The violence beautifully delivered did nothing but stoke the fun.The spirit of the young Shakespeare, embarking on one of his first plays, is wonderfully brought out in comic tone. Watching a Goth Queen writhing around in Tartan, embracing her lover Aaron atop a wheely metal tower, sweeping up groundlings lost in the smoke, made me think the Globe has really come a long way. Nothing but cries of laughter, wincing and gasping from the youngest audience I have ever seen in that theatre.