thu 06/08/2020

Globe to Globe: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's Globe | reviews, news & interviews

Globe to Globe: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's Globe

Globe to Globe: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's Globe

The Cantonese take on internecine Roman slaughter

Handless Lavinia attempts to clasp her father, Titus AndronicusSimon Kane

The demands of Titus Andronicus are probably at odds with the constraints of the Globe to Globe season: a travelling troupe would find it hard to get 80 gallons of fake blood through Customs. Nor are they likely to be furnished with the sort of special effects – removable hands, slittable throats – which the play needs.

The solution the Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio, a company from Hong Kong performing in Cantonese, initially seemed to have to devised was perfect. For the first act, in which Roman general Titus demands that a son of the captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, be killed, and the new emperor Saturninus marries Tamora instead of Titus’ daughter Lavinia, the cast each perched on a chair, moved around it, acted beside it – but never interacted with one another. While unusual, it was also elegant and highly economical, with no scenery or special effects, and an interesting deconstruction of acting.

Was it overacting by Hong Kong standards, or is all Hong Kong drama like this?

It all started to go wrong when director Tang Shu-wing let them leave the chairs. Thence, we got an entirely conventional production, with the actors constantly running on, uttering a few lines and running off, like they were delivering a message through the revolving doors of an office building.

Now the lack of scenery and effects became painful, because you knew they were supposed to be there. There were all sorts of imaginary trees and palaces. After Lavinia (Lai Yuk-ching) had been raped and her hands and tongue cut off (pictured below), she appeared with her fists curled in scarlet gloves, as did Titus (Andy Ng Wai-shek) after Aaron (Chu Pak-hong) had tricked him into cutting off his own. It was about as gruesome as you can get when red food colouring isn’t available.

Marcus Andronicus clasping Lavinia in Titus Andronicus by Tang Shu-wing Studio, Hong KongOne piece of staging available was trapdoors leading into a pit, where the emperor’s brother is thrown after Tamora’s sons Chiron and Demetrius have killed him. Once Titus’s sons Quintus and Martius had fallen in, we were treated to a broad comedy which may as well have been called Two Boys in a Pit, a bit like Men Behaving Badly only you couldn’t see either character. This episode emphasised a problem with Titus Andronicus which endured even in Cantonese: some bits were funny and some bits not meant to be funny still got laughs, which threw the tone off.

I wasn’t sure how to judge the rather hysterical acting – Franky Mcnugget playing Marcus Andronicus was the chief culprit. He was not alone in chewing the scenery, although the rest calmed down later on. Was it overacting by Hong Kong standards, or is all Hong Kong drama like this? As a lady behind me confirmed, this was overacting even by Hong Kong standards.

The climax of the play (spoiler), when Titus reveals that he has baked Tamora’s sons into a pie, which he has fed to her, and all hell breaks loose with a sequence of killings, was so rushed that we had hardly glimpsed the pie before half the cast was laid out on the boards. If there’s one scene that really needs careful staging, it’s this, otherwise it’s over before you’ve noticed. I felt seriously short-changed – and there wasn’t even a slick of fake blood to compensate.

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