"Shakespeare's Globe" on the south bank of the Thames in the shadow of Tate Modern is a somewhat Disney-esque reconstruction of a 16th century theatre. Much loved by tourists it is often overlooked by Londoners. But for a mere ¬£5 you can watch a play as a "groundling". You don't get a seat but you are right up with the action.
And my, what action the latest production delivers. Titus Andronicus is a veritable blood feast. Much maligned by serious Shakespeare scholars as one of the bard's weaker plays TA piles body on body, amputation after amputation, double cross after triple cross.
Douglas Hodge excels in the title role adeptly allowing the blood clot black humour to simmer without boiling over into out and out Python's Holy Grail style splatter-stick. Yet the manic glee with which he serves up a human pie surpasses even Vincent Price's crazed actor in the parallel scene with Robert Morley's pet poodles in Theatre of Blood.
The easy pop cultural reference is Quentin Tarantino and maybe there's something in that. QT isn't afraid to juggle gory brutality with slapstick humour but it's a trick he took from low budget horror films. In modern horror a grisly laugh is used as a safety valve. And contrary to what the rather snooty broadsheet writers have said about this production, the laughs don't necessarily trivialise the horror that surrounds them. If anything they amplify the character's anguish.
When TA and his cohorts play a frenzied game of one-potato-two-potato on a chopping block as they each plead to be the next to lose their hands it is funny and hideous at the same time. As is Titus making his daughter Lavinia carry his eventually severed hand in her teeth as they exit a scene.
But it was all too bloody for one of the audience as she fainted in front of me, wilting as the blood oozed from raped and mutilated Lavinia's hollowed mouth.
I once interviewed circus master Jim Rose and he told me that they always used to take the fainting of audience members as the greatest applause of all. I am not sure the Globe would entirely agree but they may understand what he means.
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