To look at the performance history of Titus Andronicus is to confront some provocative questions such as why has this play posed severe problems for generations of readers, critics, editors, actors, directors, and playgoers. The book examines twelve major theatrical productions and one film, on the play, that appeared in the years 1989-2009. It begins with Edward Ravenscroft's version that superseded Shakespeare's script. Peter Brook chose to stylise or formalise many moments, and Deborah Warner's production worked with no cutting of the script. Every staging of Titus elicits comments about the daunting nature of the script. The book presents Irving Wardle's reactions on Trevor Nunn's 1972 rendition, and Stanley Wells's review of the Swan production. The densest concentration of such problems and anomalies, as perceived by today's directors, critics, and editors, comes in the final scene. The productions that opened in 1989, directed by Jeannette Lambermont, Daniel Mesguich, and Michael Maggio, cut and rearranged the text liberally, often in an attempt to avoid the laughter. During the period 1989-99, three major European directors, Peter Stein, Silviu Purcarete, and Gregory Doran, focused their attention on the ways in which the play can be made to comment on specific contemporary affairs. Julie Taymor's venture in 1994 combined stylization with the 'visceral reality' as a means to keep spectators off balance and continuously sensitive to the shocking brutality of the play's events. The book ends by discussing the efforts of Yukio Ninagaw, Bill Alexander, Gale Edwards, Richard Rose, and Lucy Bailey.
This chapter explores why has Titus Andronicus posed severe problems for generations of readers, critics, editors, actors, directors, and playgoers? It then examines what can be learned from the cuts, alterations, and reshaping that form a significant part of that record? The chapter also explores which moments in the script do modern theatrical professionals deem unplayable or flawed or ridiculous? It also examines what are the perceived strengths and limitations of the daunting script? The chapter investigates can a modern 'performance' approach geared to the 1950s or 1990s fit with a 'historical' approach geared to the 1590s? It then demonstrates what actors and directors have discovered but also to ask: what price Titus? Titus had a landmark production in 1955, directed by Peter Brook and starring Laurence Olivier and has subsequently been produced with some regularity.
In 1598 Francis Meres lists Titus Andronicus among William Shakespeare's tragedies. Performed intermittently in the early years of the eighteenth century, Edward Ravenscroft's Titus in 1717 became a major vehicle for James Quin, the first of many actors who found grand opportunities in the role of Aaron. Except for the Ravenscroft adaptation, Titus was more of a curiosity than a theatrical playscript between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries. Edward Trostle Jones argues that Peter Brook's 'stylized distancing effects' allowed the spectator to 'accept the horror of the play without experiencing total revulsion'. And to reach 'the beauty beneath the barbarism of Titus Andronicus requires the repressive mode for presentation'. Before Brook-Laurence Olivier, the most notable production was the 1923 rendition at the Old Vic, directed by Robert Atkins as part of a mounting of all thirty-seven plays over a seven-year period.
The 1955 triumph of the Peter Brook-Laurence Olivier Titus Andronicus demonstrated that William Shakespeare's script was, or could be, actable. By focusing on the mythic or ritualistic side of the tragedy, Gerald Freedman helped to bring Titus back into the circle of 'performable' Shakespeare plays. To invoke images of Fascism when staging one of Shakespeare's Roman plays was not 'new' in 1967, but Douglas Seale may have been the first to present a Fascist Titus. A different set of choices and a different approach to 'realism' are provided by the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Titus with all shows directed by Trevor Nunn. Jane Howell rejected the stylised effects familiar in other productions. The productions directed by Freedman, Laird Williamson, Pat Patton, and Paul Barry show one line of descent from Brook in the choice to stylise some or many of the elements in the script.
Daniel Scuro admired Peter Brook's tasteful editing of William Shakespeare's 'extravagant poetry and melodrama'. Starting with Brook in 1955, directors have found that one way to bridge the many gaps between the 1590s and today is to omit from the playing script those passages or moments that are deemed unplayable or flawed. New to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and Stratford, Deborah Warner was best known for her work with the Kick Theatre, a 'Fringe' group in London that specialises in minimalist productions. The word repeated constantly among Titus Andronicus personnel was 'trust': trust in the script, in the audience, in the Swan Theatre and in each other. For H. R. Woudhuysen, Warner's production 'moves unerringly between high tragedy and the most painful comedy' so that 'the audience is allowed to laugh, but at the right moments'.
Every staging of Titus Andronicus elicits comments about the daunting nature of the script. For many playgoers at the Swan Theatre and the Pit Deborah Warner's production worked with no cutting of the script and very little stylised action. Both Patrick Stewart and Brian Cox see a huge generation gap between Titus and Saturninus-Bassianus. Stewart's formulation aptly sums up some major problems facing the actor who takes on Titus today. Other problems also emerge in staging Titus or Titus, some of them generated by the gap between us and the 1590s. The major problem in playing Titus, according to Stewart, is that of endurance. Around 1610, however, the fashion changed, so that performances in the public theatres gradually began to follow the practice of the private theatres in having brief pauses, with musical interludes, between the acts.
Many different areas of Titus Andronicus have posed problems on the stage and on the page. The densest concentration of such problems and anomalies (as perceived by today's directors, critics, and editors) comes in the final scene. This chapter looks at some features of a section of Titus Andronicus that can provide a useful conclusion to a 'Shakespeare in performance' approach to this difficult script. It also considers the segment up to the deaths of Lavinia, Tamora, Titus, and Saturninus. To present the many options presented by the script as it survives in the quarto is perhaps to frustrate the reader who prizes fixedness in interpretation and to give the impression of a Shakespeare play as a do-it-yourself kit. The chapter expands the reader's or director's sense of those options and argues on behalf of the theatricality and range of meaning in the original script.
William Shakespeare was a theatrical professional, but he crafted his playscripts not for us but for actors, playgoers, and theatres that he knew intimately but no longer exist. Few theatrical professionals are willing to emulate Deborah Warner and her cast so as to 'trust' the script and their audiences. The tragedy is 'playable' today and can provide a powerful experience for a playgoer as vividly demonstrated by Peter Brook and Laurence Olivier in 1955 and again by Warner and Brian Cox in 1987-88. To focus upon directors' solutions to the problems posed by the final scene is to call attention to the differing strategies that have been used to deal with this troubling and formidable tragedy. The price tag for Titus Andronicus involves some form of 'translation' wherein some significant features of the original script are metamorphosed into images and effects deemed suitable or safe for today's audiences.
This chapter is devoted to productions appearing in the first decade since the publication of Alan C. Dessen's volume, excluding Julie Taymor's stage production. It concerns Taymor's dramatic work at Theatre for a New Audience, as well as the film deriving from that theatrical event. The chapter describes the lines of descent that incline toward Taymor's version of the play. It then takes up performances occurring since the cinematic release of Titus Andronicus, many of which exhibit the pervasive influence of that film. The chapter follows Dessen's precedent in examining recent productions by way of their solutions to the various 'problems' presented by Titus Andronicus. It also focuses on the cultural and historical circumstances surrounding each production that helped to shape the specific meaning generated through the collaboration of contemporary theatre professionals with William Shakespeare through his text.
Emulating a more distant predecessor, Jeannette Lambermont and Daniel Mesguich modelled their productions on the stylised efforts of Peter Brook, while Michael Maggio cautiously imitated the realistic presentation of Jane Howell's BBC-TV version. Brook's most memorable choice in his stylisation of the violent action in Titus Andronicus was to employ scarlet ribbons in place of blood, a technique he adapted from Asian theatre. Gerald Freedman's New York Shakespeare Festival production borrowed the same strategy and made the Asian connection explicit by using costumes that '"recreated an unknown people of a non-specific time" with elements of "Roman-Byzantine and feudal Japanese"'. Director Jeannette Lambermont, in her Stratford, Ontario production, pursued a similar strategy by mixing ancient Roman design with colourful and ritualistic aspects of Eastern theatre. Lambermont's production employed several features borrowed from traditional Japanese theatrical forms.