Moving to the top of the Life in the Cheap Seats’ “great deals for great shows” list is Titus Andronicus as presented at St. Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch for the shockingly low price of £13. I was lucky enough to get offered comps for this show – and I say lucky because, well, the quality of shows I’m invited to review varies really widely. I was kind of enthusiastic about going to see Titus, though. Basically, it’s the Roman Sweeney Todd, and if you’re in the mood for some gory and gothsome theater, this revenge tragedy cuts the mustard.
The theater itself enhances the atmosphere nicely – while it’s still very visibly a church, with pews and an organ, it’s all set up with faded flags and dusty plastic coverings that enhance the feeling of an empire that’s on its way out. The director has wisely chosen to keep the set simple, allowing us to focus on the words and the action: after all, if Shakespeare has the actors describing the copse they are in, do we really need to have trees? No. And we have plenty to keep focused on, with executions and murders happening left and right. A lot of them happen off-stage, but on stage, well, we have MORE than enough blood for even the most jaded Grand Guignol to sit up and take notice. In fact, I think a couple of audience members may have got a bit more than they were expecting; I saw a woman looking distinctly green as Lavinia drooled blood from one foot away. The front row seats are great: we took hers after the interval, when she failed to return, full of stunningly cheap tea and slices of cake (not pie).
Titus, Lavinia, and Marcus of Malachite Theatre’s Titus Andronicus – photo credit NICOLAI KORNUM http://www.nicolaikornum.com
While I could carp a bit about the occasionally bad sound quality (it’s a church, things echo, words get lost), what struck both me and my companion was the uniformly high acting quality. Tamora (Jo Price) took a while to find her stride (we’re supposed to buy her transitioning from broke captive to vengeful empress in about five minutes time), but Titus (Charles Cromwell) was unfailingly on from start to finish. Also great was the nearly unremittingly evil Aaron: Stephen Boyce took a character that could have come off as cartoonish and made his entire panoply of emotions (including revenge and passion) believable. And throughout the evening, not for a minute did it seem like a single actor did not fully understand the meaning behind their words and respond accordingly. It was easy for the fourth wall to drop and to lose myself in the raw emotions playing out before me – though I held back enough to remind myself it was stage blood, and no actors were harmed in the making of the pie.
In a summer heavy with Shakespeare, Malachite Theatre has succeeded in upstaging The Globe and Propellor by providing a performance that you can really sink your teeth into, at a price that means there’s no excuse not to go. Excellence has rarely been so affordable.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 9th, 2013. It continues through Saturday, August 31st. Running time is about 2:15.)