Review Time: Titus Andronicus at the RSC. Arresting, harrowing, superb.

Michael Fentiman’s Titus Andronicus, is harrowing, gruesome, poignant, and farcical enough in equal measure, to illicit strong emotional responses from the audience, whilst maintaining just enough distance from reality to stimulate the intellectualisation of revenge as a concept, and the aftermath of vengeful acts both implied and depicted.

Set in an indeterminable point in history, echoes of past dictatorships from the Roman empire to Nazism, and modern political agendas like the ‘war on terrorism’, are moulded together alongside the corrupted boundaries of religion and morality. The representation of evil and benevolence are blurred: black humour coincides with atrocious acts of violence; and no persona is portrayed as either Saint or Sinner.

Fentiman’s direction successfully quantifies the horrific hyperbole of Shakespeare’s script, through a ‘Hammer-horror’ come ‘psychological thriller’ tone which is established from the off-set. The black humour is allowed to materialise without being forced (one such example includes the ludicrously hideous argument between Marcus, Titus & Lucius over who should chop off their hand in exchange for the lives of two of Titus’s sons), and it is this presence of discordant humour which made the depictions of violence more terrible, and the poignancy of loss more prevalent.

The cast of Titus portrayed the complex psychologies of morally ambivalent characters with uncompromising success.

RSC veteran Stephen Boxer (in his lead role as Titus) gave a captivating performance of a man with a violently fickle, casually stubborn disposition, emanating an astonishing conviction of sanity within Titus’ developing insanity: from his blind loyality to Rome despite the many wrongs conducted against him, to a successive disillusionment with the empire as he descends into madness.

Titus (Stephen Boxer) Lavinia (Rose Reynolds)

Titus (Stephen Boxer) Lavinia (Rose Reynolds)

Rose Reynolds (as Titus’ daughter Lavinia) exuded a fiery youthfulness and poignant integrity of mind, which made both her shame and defiance in the face of victimisation endearing.

Lavinia- Rose Reynolds

Lavinia- Rose Reynolds

Richard Goulding (as Bassianus) and Ben Deery* (as Saturninus) gave highly authentic airs of both sibling and political rivalry. Deery was particularly engrossing in his role as the fickle, brattish, yet somehow naïve dictator, easily swayed by the potent charisma of Tamora (Queen of the Goths, then Saturnine’s Empress), who governs him as she does her own sons.

Katy Stephens’ Tamora was charmingly duplicitous and sensual, yet evoked a degree of sympathy through her consecration of Tamora’s strength, pride and maternal instinct.

Katy Stephens (Tamora)

Katy Stephens (Tamora)

Tamora’s sons Chiron (Jonny Weldon) & Demetrius (Perry Millward) were played with an inexperience, ignorance, and arrogance which became stronger as the play progressed. The youthful vigour and teen lust of the characters came across very strongly, effectively portraying the final corruption of any innocence they may have had, through the violent self-corruption of their own virginity, and the forcing of Lavinia’s chastity through Aaron’s encouragement.

Kevin Harvey gave a highly impressionable performance as Aaron, (Tamora’s lover and fellow Goth). Harvey expertly defined the charismatic ambiguity of the character, as a self-determined man, who could evoke a genuine empathy despite his numerous, unashamed acts of villainy. A tormented, wronged, utterly corrupted soul, whose desperate acts inflict pain from passion, yet demonstrates the strongest unconditional love for his son. Harvey’s rendition of such a complicated character profile was outstanding.

Arresting performances; flawless stage craft; the use of prosthetics and slight of hand drew the audience in, provoking gasps and grimaces throughout, but particularly during engrossing scenes such as Lavinia’s slow re-emergence after her rape and mutilation.

The conclusive act of revenge in the final scene was enacted with a despicable yet engrossing, painful wit, descending into chaos whereby all preceding actions become fruitless. This was a shockingly successful example of how, by not trying to disguise the seemingly nonsensical nature of the atrocities, the production roots the dialogue between the characters in a terrible naturalism which can only exist within the construct they’ve created.

Within a wider context, this production poses some important questions. To what extent does retaliation lead to further escalation? Can war atrocities only be revenged through further conflict, political sanctions and interventions? To this end, Titus Andronicus has been re-staged at a highly relevant point within our own history, where acts of terrorism and civil un-rest are rife, yet we have developed a strange tolerance of depicted violence through modern media which serves to ‘normalise’ it. Therefore it feels appropriate for Shakespeare’s most bloodthirsty play to experience a resurrection, as our desensitisation sits at the relevant point whereby we are able to watch and analyse this portrayal of the self-destruction of civilisation through vengeance.

Michael Fentiman’s Titus is a well-constructed, arresting piece of theatre, which explores the philosophy of vengeance, whilst keeping the audience gripped from the very first, to the very last breath.

Five Stars.

(* Saturninus is usually played by John Hopkins who was indisposed on the night I reviewed the show).

For Further information and interesting articles about Titus Andronicus, follow the links below:

Stratford Adventures Part 1. Ceramics, Coffee, & Christmas.

Perched within the encompassing glow of a Costa cafe, itself bound by an architecturally Tudor shell, I found my bearings. Plugging my destination in to Googlemaps to ensure I wouldn’t wander off on too much of a tangent, I sipped my coffee, readying myself to commence a solo exploration of Stratford, and search for the infamous RSC (a daunting prospect for someone with an increasingly questionable sense of direction. Even with a Sat-Nav. And a navigator).

Unfortunately, as a result of bouncing off the walls in excitement the night before, a slightly insomniac haze had settled over me. My excursions were conducted in a relatively dream-like state, enjoying the adventure by perceiving specific eccentricities in a wash of visual white noise. Running on caffeine, and having left my jacket behind (*face-palm*) I bounced from doorway to doorway with a scarf held tight to my head like a Russian doll.

My first utterance of excited surprise came from the discovery of a CHRISTMAS SHOP, called the ‘Nutcracker’, which sells Festive paraphernalia and plays associated jingles all year round. For someone like me, this find could do nothing but elicit an infantile squeal of delight.

Eeee!!

Eeee!!

The next stop along the rainy road to the RSC was a Shakespearean gift shop, selling any manner of bard-related bits you could imagine. One such example was a Yorricks’ Skull mug… Alas, poor Yorrick… I couldn’t take him home because I own too many novelty ceramics already (dagnabbit). After settling for a ‘Titus Andronicus’ post card, I padded about in the rain for a circular ten minute stretch, before finding myself peering up at the entrance to the Swan Theatre. Wide eyed. Wet-through. Ceremoniously de-scarfing myself, I felt like I’d reached some sort of forgotten Mecca.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the delights of the RSC’s free costume exhibition “Into the Wild”, a display of costumes associated with Shakespeare’s development of natural imagery within his work, and how this was reflected in the costumes used in various RSC productions from the 1950′s onwards. (Check back soon for a more detailed account of this…)

The interior of the Theatre looked like it could be the exterior, with the curved red-brick casing of the auditorium looming large and round like the distended base of a great chimney. I wondered how many bricks there’d be if I tried to count them all.

I didn’t on this occasion. Aside from wishing to avoid going cross-eyed, I was preoccupied with gathering my thoughts over another steaming coffee, this time in the Riverside cafe. I couldn’t tell whether I was shaking with cold; sudden caffeine intake; or excitement. The atmosphere was palpable. The weight of history hung close despite my contemporary surroundings.

What I’d seen of Stratford that afternoon was a fascinating mix of contrasts and oddities. Wide pathways; narrow walkways; plentiful benches; open spaces; intimate spaces; new shops in old exteriors; eccentricities. It strikes me as a perfect destination for the inquisitive mind with a love of history, most specifically Tudor & Elizabethan. Obviously Shakespeare’s presence is inextricable from the town. As the proud, authoritative documenters and vendors, whom, along with the RSC lovingly govern the modern reception of the Bards’ work and origins, Stratford’s retail sector can be forgiven for being commercialised in places. But this is easily avoided by resisting the lure of too many a gift-shop bearing intriguingly shaped ceramics.

Next time on catl3yscrux: The RSC ‘Into the Wild’ exhibition, and ‘Titus Andronicus’, the review.

Good news & new reviews!

If I were being reserved, I might say ‘I’m delighted’ to announce that some special features will be appearing on the blog in the near future. As it is, I’m more than delighted. I’m as ineffably chuffed as a happy chaffinch, to have been fortunate enough to gain a spot on an exclusive blogging event for the RSC! (Hello childhood dream, I extend my grabby fingers towards you in glossy-eyed wonderment)…

I was quite pleased. Just a little bit. Yippee!

This is my pleasantly surprised face. (AARGH! MY EYES! DON’T LOOK AT IT!)

As such, I’ll be off to the Swan Theatre in Stratford on June 27th, in order to see the RSC’s new production of Titus Andronicus, and to take part in a Q&A with director Michael Fentiman, and cast members Stephen Boxer (Titus), Katy Stephens (Tamora), and Rose Reynolds (Lavinia). Myself and the other lucky jammy bloggers attending will have the opportunity to discuss the production, fire off a load of questions, and generally have a good time making a potential nuisance of ourselves discovering some valuable insight into the play, and the RSC’s working construct.

So if the bard’s your bag, Shakespeare’s your sweetheart, or the RSC’s your… G&T? (*shrugs*) keep an eye out for a series of related posts which will be popping up onto the blog soon! (ish) :) In the meantime, you can check out the trailer for Titus Andronicus here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RN6SQ-HL5b4

(be warned, possibly NSFW, and most assuredly not suitable for teeny children) X

Review Time: Superman, ‘Man of Steel’.

It also helps if your protagonist looks like this.

Henry Cavill aka superman aka Clark Kent aka Kal El.

‘Man of Steel’, the highly anticipated re-boot of the Superman franchise was unsurprisingly grandiose, with extended action sequences and visual effects worthy of the $225 million budget for the film’s production.

Yet this isn’t entirely your ‘typical’ blockbuster. The non-linear exploration of Kal El’s (Clark Kent’s) origins and personal development makes for a film which caters to a diversity of interests in the original Superhero, aligning itself with a tone more reminiscent of ‘The Dark Knight’ series, compared to reboots such as ”The Fantastic Four’ where depth of character is secondary to cliché.

Henry Cavill (Kal El/ Clark Kent/ Superman) was expertly cast, fulfilling the all-American dream man role whilst bringing Kal’s vulnerability, moral anguish, and highly developed sense of conscience into sharp relief.

The visual effects were highly imaginative & detailed, constructed around the motif of metallics. From the scale-like quality of Superman’s costume; the cold terrains of earth & space; the planet ‘Krypton’ (a writhing mass of red canyons and clouded skies); and the complex, industrialised feel of the Kryptonian technology, the film maintained a strong, hard-edged visual identity, complimenting the emotional complexities explored in the storyline.

Despite some occasional gratuitous destruction, and the odd moment of ‘cringe’ within the dialogue, the film remained highly watch-able throughout its 143 minute running time. Kal’s character development, and the exploration of themes such as identity, acceptance, morality, and diversity, ensured the depth of story-telling required to avoid ‘Man of Steel’s’ descent into just another Hollywood action cliché. A highly successful contemporary reboot of an icon Superhero, and essential viewing this summer.

The Badger Cull

I make no qualms or apologies about it. I am adamantly against the course of action the government has adopted for attempting to prevent the spread of Bovine TB: a 70% cull of Badgers in England & Wales, the first stages of which will be set into motion this weekend in West Somerset and Gloucestershire.

I’d urge everyone with a sense of morality to fight against this incentive.

Killing the majority of one species to possibly save some lives of animals we only keep for exploitation anyway is as illogical as it is immoral. Applying the same principle to humanity would be tantamount to genocide.

If, for example, we had a pandemic of bird flu, swine flu or some such, and instead of creating vaccines, and other medicinal means of combating the virus, we just killed everybody infected. Even contemplating such an option would be ludicrous, barbaric; so why apply the same principle to a different species?

Because some people think it doesn’t matter. Badgers, humans, they’re entirely different.

NO.

A life is a life.

People suffer, animals suffer, we share this in common. So instead of the experimental 70% cull (read: mass murder) in West Somerset and Gloucestershire, why was there not an experimental 70% vaccination policy implemented? Because it was just “cheaper and easier” to authorise such a scheme. Death vs ethics, and death won as a result of ‘financial considerations.’ This is laughable, considering the annual wage of one MP (excluding ‘expenses’) would probably have been enough to pay for the ethical alternative.

It’s not even a matter of Cows vs Badger, as the cull only provides a ‘possibility’ of lessening the spread of bovine TB.

So, based upon the POSSIBILITY (not certainty) of LESSENING (not eradicating) this disease, the government is advocating the slaughter of nearly an entire species of wildlife which are vital to the ecological construct of the countryside, and to our natural heritage.

If, like me, you passionately believe that the proposed Badger cull is a horrific injustice, when there are humane alternatives available, please write to your local MP registering your opposition, and/or sign the petition:

https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257

You can find out more about the badger cull from the following websites:

http://www.teambadger.org/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21602753

Thank you X

Recent stuff going down in Funky town.

Yeah, so the weather is changeable, and it feels like Summer is taking it’s own holiday this year. Birds are checking their watches, frogs haven’t a clue whether they should be swimming, spawning or yawning, but hey, there is GOOD NEWS. ‘Spring Watch’ is on the telly (hooway!) and there is some awesome groovy stuff soon to be going down in funky town, so rejoice in the waffle I offer to brighten your day. Hallelujah praise the cake!

I did not make this... but my god...

I did not make this. Somebody please make a gluten-free version and promptly APPLY IT TO MY FACE.

Firstly I have a marvellous proposition for you if you’re at a loss for occupation this coming weekend (and even if you’re not, you should still consider this an option, for it is marvellous). This Saturday, for a period between 2-4pm, I’ll be performing at the highly anticipated ‘Respect in the Park’ Festival in Exeter City Centre. ‘The City’s Annual Celebration of Diversity’ will be flourishing it’s cultural bouquet in the Belmont Park from 12-7pm on Saturday, and 11-6pm on Sunday. Entry is free, so come revel in the voluptuous muffin of cultural diversity that Exeter has to offer! (NB: I can neither confirm nor deny the actual presence of cake). If you would like to find out more about the Respect festival, you can check out the website here:

Also, I will be releasing my new poetry collection ‘Fructose’ soon! I cannot tell you exactly how soon, as my version of ‘soon’ might be different from yours (IT’S ALL RELATIVE) but as sure as kittens are cute and hedgehogs are prickly, it shall be available for perusal this summer. I’m currently working with the very talented and lovely Samantha Smart on the photography for the front cover, so once that’s all in place, extracts from the collection and details of where to find it will be posted right here!

I was going to tell you about my magical, dream-fulfilling experience of happening upon a HELLO KITTY exhibit at the Exeter V&A museum… but that shall have to wait. My planet needs me. So for now, I shall bid you adieu. PORRIDGE! Cheers-then-love-you-byee! xXx

ERHMAGHERD HELLO KITTAW MUSEUM!

ERHMAGHERD HELLO KITTAW MUSEUM!

The Incomers: SO Weird, Sexy, and Wrong, you can’t stop watching.

It was weird, it was sexy, it was wrong. ‘The Incomers’ at The Bike Shed Theatre, directed by Paul Jepson, wasn’t your stereotypical suburban wife-swapping farce, but a disturbing, dynamic re-working of an old cliché. A swinging Surbiton dinner party in the heart of Cornwall: awkward, out of place, but in a highly watch-able way.

What the... 0_o

What the… 0_o

Playwright Murray Lachlan Young’s choice of topic is not original, however it is explored with such intelligence, and so engagingly, so as not to mask the entire script in cliché. This show was not just about swinging and sexual promiscuity (although there is a lot of that sort of hanky panky oo-err-missus business); it’s about city modernism and development, drugs, capitalism and exploitation versus a dream scape of idealised ruralism and traditional values, family and cultural heritage.

Lachlan Young’s poetic language is beautifully emotive, even with the generous use of profanities, and evoked a barely reigned in sexual tension, and was delightfully disturbing.

‘The Incomers’ was a case study in technical mastery, with a highly complimentary sound-track and lighting washes, both highly stylised. The use of black lighting (UV) made some of the action a little indiscernible at times, but this wasn’t enough to marr the overall effect.

Dramaturgically the show was excellent, intelligently staged so the action made use of the entire acting space; the actors exercised excellent physical control as their characters’ began to unravel morally, mentally and sexually. There were really strong performances from all of the cast, but particularly engaging was Jerome Wright’s physically funny and horrifying portrayal of the ambivalent Zak, and his dynamic with the distraught, charismatic and emotionally charged Celia (played by Mary Woodvine). Rory Wilton gave a great deal of life to the idealistic, almost teenage mentality of Gordon, a proverbial Ostrich,* trying to remain optimistic and philosophical in the face of undeniable truth, Wilton’s performance gave gravity to Gordon’s crumbling idealism.

The production as a whole is imbued with a very strong sense of identity, and is entirely worthy of the positive press it has received thus far. A five star show, and an absolute must-see if you get the chance.

*head in the sand.