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Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare's Globe

Marion Marples

Whatever may currently be happening in the world, it can be seen starkly precipitated out on stage in the new Globe production, by Lucy Bailey, of Shakespeareâs first tragedy, Titus Andronicus.

Seated among the Roman crowd, hectored and stirred up by rival sons Saturninus (Patrick Moy) and Bassianus (Simon Wilson) who vie for poplular affection now their Emperor father is dead, we may feel the Deputy PM's troubles are small. The set is swathed in 'mourning weeds', the specially created roof, designed by William Dudley as a 'velarium' as seen in Rome's Colosseum, dulls the evening's brightness.

Incense and dry ice surround us and distant drums bring in the prisoners of war- Tamora the queen of the Goths (Geraldine Alexander), her Moorish lover, Aaron. (Shaun Parkes) and her three sons. They have no recourse to justice, just the rivalry and lust of Saturninus who spurns Titus's daughter Lavinia (Laura Rees) and takes Tamora for himself, while Bassianus woos Lavinia.

I missed the moment when it was disclosed that Titus had already lost 21 sons in battles defending Rome, but the rape and mutilation of Lavinia by Tamara's sons, unfolds grisly bloody revenge by knifings, hanging, garrotting, stabbing and beheading. The final 'Banquet' when Tamora is forced to eat a pie made from the flesh of her sons is particularly horrible with a record four murders in one scene.

The role of Aaron paints the starkly anti-black sentiment of the 16th century, gives us a few moments of finer feeling, but ultimately reminds us why 9/11 might have come about. Tamora's sons, a grim double act of 'rape' and 'murder' frame their mother 'revenge' in what is actually one of the 'lighter' scenes .

If the set is bleak, the music by Django Bates even more so. A wonderful trumpet and specially made Naverlur Swedish wooden horns of various lengths are accompanied by a variety of simple flutes and whistles and unusual percussion in unsettling, discordant interventions.

The groundlings were more involved than usual with much of the action taking place among them. Wheeled stands resembling the medieval carts used for Passion plays and a wild hunt pursuing the deer amongst them left them wondering what would happen next. A Plebeian (Chris Emmett) was a great cameo role, which just fractionally lifted the all-encompassing brutality, bloody murder and bleakness of the story.

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