Titus Review

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People opposed to censorship always enjoy reminding the anti-violence lobby that Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus - written before he was 25, seldom seen nowadays, but a real smasheroo in the Bard’s lifetime - is as bloodthirsty as drama can get. The heroine is gang-raped and mutilated, folks are decapitated all over the place, there are lashings of lascivious depravity, and the hero serves the villainess a dish made from her last two sons. It addresses racism horrifically, with a wicked Moor and his baby son hunted like animals. Makes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre look like a picnic.

Before you get too excited, be aware that modern thinking has re-evaluated Titus Andronicus as a political allegory. Hotshot Emmy and Obie-winning theatre director Taymor also chooses to interpret it as black comedy. Her Titus, full of cross-cultural visual references, speaks to the violence of our time, but surrenders to savage absurdity. Mercifully, she prefers surreal and even dreamy imagery to gut-wrenching realism, although there is still plenty of stomach-churning incident in the “fearful slumber” from which Titus cannot wake.

Performances are variable, too. Hopkins has the expertise and authority for a high-minded, obdurate and finally tragically-crazed Titus; Lange is a fierce, passionate Tamora; Lennix is fantastic as the reviled, vengeful and unrepentant slave, Aaron, and Cumming’s depraved Emperor - not far from his em-cee in Sam Mendes’ stage production of Cabaret - strikes one as a petulantly lewd Human League fan.

Visually, ‘30s fascismo chic jostles with glam-rock remnants , and legionary strip swiped from I Claudius, as the ensemble hack their way through a catalogue of cruelties amid millennia-spanning, Italian architectural features. While one understands the concept of timelessness, whether this makes for an eyeful or an eyesore depends on your tastes.