by Rachel Zuroff
Blood, excess, murder, rape . . . The Montreal Shakespeare Theatre Company is currently staging William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, one of the playwright’s least performed pieces. The play revolves around its title character Titus, as he returns to Rome victorious from war. With him is the Goth royal family, brought back as prisoners of war. The first scene of the play is marked by a series of Titus’ rash decisions, including the execution of the eldest son of Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Titus’ decision to execute Tamora’s son rather than to be lenient unleashes the play’s subsequent cycle of horrors.
It is merely an opportunity to enjoy as a voyeur the pain and suffering of others.
Shakespeare’s plays are always difficult to perform. They were written for a different audience, and modern publics are often unprepared and unaccustomed to their particular brand of melodrama. Thus, it can be particularly difficult to perform Shakespeare’s plays, because it is so easy to slip into excess or melodrama. The Montreal Shakespeare Theatre Company is on the brink. Some of the acting is quite good. Christopher Moore as Titus, Jessica B. Hill as Tamora and Jaa Smith Johnson as Aaron all offer strong performances. The original percussion score and chorus members are quite good. The pace of the play was mostly fluid and quick. Nonetheless, Ellie Moon’s performace as Lavinia was weak, the rape scene was far too long and the use of blood excessive.
However, the real problem with the play is its story. Unlike Shakespeare’s later tragedies, Titus Andronicus seems more like a Renaissance slasher film than anything else. According to its press release, Titus Andronicus “explores the underlying theme of man’s inhumanity to man; a topic . . . as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare’s day.” Yet, I consider this an excuse. In my opinion, there is no redeeming moral or significance to the play. It is merely an opportunity to enjoy as a voyeur the pain and suffering of others.
I’m not trying to criticize too harshly the current production of Titus. I think they do their best, but I also think there is a reason why Shakespeare’s first tragedy is performed so infrequently.
Titus Andronicus is playing at the Monument National in Montreal from August 2 to 13. For mature audiences only.