Titus Andronicus / Kabuki
Various venues

May / June, 2006

[...] Lucy Bailey’s production of Titus Andronicus, for instance, cast light for me on the aesthetic of Quentin Tarantino, rather than vice versa.  I understood the film director’s taste for seemingly inappropriate responses to ultraviolence: not just black humour, but affectlessness.  Those reviews that find fault with Douglas Hodge’s treatment of Titus’ response to grief or horror are missing the point: when such things happen to us, we seek a response which is our own, which works for us. Among the forms that may are sick jokes (I’ve been guilty of the same myself on losing a loved one) and a seeming emotional shutdown until an appropriate outlet does present itself.  Hodge’s talent for comedy works with his characterisation here, not against it.

I’m less sure about William Dudley’s design, which wraps the Globe stage in black and throws a semi-opaque canopy over the top of the roofless arena.  It testifies to adventurousness and innovation, and suggests that the Dromgoole regime will not be shackled to a narrow range of options.  Yet there comes a point when the reinvention of a theatrical space’s configuration begins to take on characteristics of denial, as if a production is no longer working in original ways with the fabric of the venue but is trying to suppress some of its features and create others more convenient.  The Globe was created with a certain kind of experience in mind; I’m not sure which side of the line Bailey’s staging and Dudley’s design fall on – whether they negotiate with that expected experience, or whether they cudgel it a wee bit so it fits what they want.


Sadler’s Wells was fairly efficiently remade in the appropriate configuration for its Kabuki double bill, with the traditional entrance gangway down one side.  It was an intriguing experience on press night to have one or two Japanese punters in the galleries shouting spontaneous remarks of (I presume) approbation... certainly a more authentic feeling than the headphone commentary’s not-so-discreet prompting, “The artist might appreciate your applause at this point.”  I agree with those reviewers who found the onnagata performance of Kamejiro Ichikawa II more impressive than those of the ostensible star Ebizo Ichikawa XI.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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