Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet
JUST a very quick post from me today as I'm frantically trying to get all my work written before heading off to Cyprus tomorrow for an opera festival - don't worry, I'm not expecting any sympathy.
So today I'm cheating. Here's a piece by Sam Liu, one of the cast of PurpleCoat Productions' Titus Andronicus, which is at the Contemporary Urban Centre this week...
Titus Andronicus is perhaps Shakespeare's most underappreciated work. The Victorians hated it for its graphic depictions of rape and violence, and ever since it has been largely dismissed by the theatrical and literary establishment. But this tragedy was immensely popular during Shakespeare's own time. If the Globe was in need of a money-spinner to tide it over, it was Titus Andronicus to which Shakespeare and co. turned, such was its favour among Elizabethan audiences. And shortly, at the Contemporary Urban Centre in Liverpool, we are going to try and recreate that forgotten magic.
I'm a small part of PurpleCoat Productions, a local theatre group, but one with an impressive track record (if I do say so myself). With past successful productions of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet behind us (not to mention a bit of Greek tragedy and a feature length film), we are once again treading the boards in a new and very different show. What's more, this production is part of the RSC Open Stages scheme, an initiative aimed at encouraging the work of small drama groups up and down the country. A select few of the productions staged with this scheme will get the chance to perform their show in Stratford, the birthplace of the Bard himself, as part of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival.
Titus Andronicus tells the story of an embittered Roman general, who returns to Rome after a long and weary war. He brings with him four prisoners - the queen of the defeated Goths and her three sons. By slaying the eldest son of this conquered queen in revenge for his own son's death, Titus inadvertently sets off a chain of very gruesome events. On the surface, this play is nothing more than a nonstop blood-bath, an overly brutal romp reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film. But look closer and you will find a deeply emotional and more complex tale; a story of the unbreakable love between a father and his daughter; a commentary on ritualism, honour and what it means to be "civilised".
But let's not get too bogged down in thematic analysis. The play really is very, very violent, and, above all, a cracking piece of drama. It is often said that the first rule of theatre is this: do not bore the audience. Well, if you're not a natural Shakespeare fan, find what you've seen of his stuff tedious and still shudder with fear whenever you remember being taught one of his plays in school, then I suggest you come along to our production and be converted. I can assure you, we are doing our utmost to invoke all the best things about this oft overlooked tragedy - its high drama and suspense, its emotional intensity, its unashamedly no-holds-barred goriness, its sweeping scale and its overwhelming sense of majesty.
I asked our director, Karl Falconer, why he thought people should come and see the show. "We're pulling out all the stops with Titus Andronicus. This is the first time this play has been performed in Liverpool, so it's a great opportunity to discover something new. We've brought together a really talented group, and it'd be great to see people come and support the production and help us get to Stratford. The show is going to be something special."And what about the production itself, it isn't all ruffled collars and over-the-top acting, is it? "Certainly not. Following the trend of many recent blockbuster movies, the show is in the style of a graphic novel and involves dance, film, chase sequences and a soundtrack which includes Lady Gaga. Think Taken meets The Dark Knight. Don't be put off if Shakespeare's not your thing".
And now, after months of rehearsing, of polishing and perfecting every last nook and cranny, the time is almost upon us. It has been a great collaborative effort, as all of PurpleCoat's shows are. When the curtain lifts and the lights go up, I hope we put on a show that does credit to this exceptional play and to Shakespeare's memory. So if you're enthusiastic about young talent, want to help small theatre groups in these very tough times and a fan of the sort of bold, unique and adventurous art only Liverpool can offer, then please come along and support us. You shan't regret it.
PurpleCoat Productions' Titus Andronicus will run from September 1-3 at the Contemporary Urban Centre in Liverpool. Tickets: £9 for adults, £7 for concessions (inc. students), discount available for groups of 8+.
If you're in the Shakespearean mood, there's still time to catch Lodestar's Romeo and Juliet at St George's Hall. Here's my review...
THERE'S plenty to like about Lodestar's Romeo and Juliet. For starters, there's the exquisite setting - St George's Hall's Small Concert Room, which stands in as both palace and tomb, the white statues eerily illuminated during the final, tragic scenes.
Limited by their Grade I-listed surroundings, the producers have kept scenery sparse. A single row of doors stands at the back of the stage with projections colouring in the location.
A projected introductory sequence presents the characters like the opening credits of a movie, a fun idea that immediately warns not to expect a regular doublet and hose production.
With unexpectedly humorous moments, the star-cross'd lovers are played as the ages they are, with flashes of extreme emotion brought on by teenage hormonal overload.
Romeo (David Rankine) dreamily flits from one girl to another, his playful naivete in the early scenes obliterated by the horror of realising his desire to make peace with Juliet's kin has led to the murder of his best friend.
Rachel Rae's Juliet is no delicate blossom, waiting to be plucked by a handsome suitor.
She stamps, shouts and cheers her way through the part, the musical qualities of her Scouse accent suiting the rhythm of the verse - though it does give a slightly softer meaning to the usually violent warning "If they see you, they will murder you."
This Juliet shrieks when she discovers Romeo has overheard her musings on the balcony and supplements all gentle looks with a mischievous scowl.
When the couple steal their first kiss in the Capulets' garden, it is more a post- school disco snog than a chaste brushing of lips.
Haz Webb's nurse makes much of a supporting role and Richard Kelly's Tybalt is menacing. Simon Hedger is splendid as Friar Laurence, playing him as a sandal-wearing hippy, eager to help the troubled teens.
So, yes, there's plenty to like, and in some cases even love, but for one major drawback - the echo made a lot of the words inaudible.
When scenes were played out on the floor, this was less of a problem, but on the stage and, most tragically, on the balcony, it was a struggle to hear the lines.
For other plays, perhaps this would not have been such a problem, but this is Shakespeare. You can perform his work on a bare stage in jeans and a T-shirt and it still has the power to blow you over, but all the theatrical trickery and fine costumes cannot compensate for muffled lines.
Without this problem, the production would have deserved a higher rating than three stars out of five. Hopefully, Lodestar will find a way of overcoming the echo for the remainder of the run, which continues until September 11.
Three out of five stars.