The tragedy Titus is the fictional account of Roman general Titus, returned from war to face a queen bent on revenge for the death of her son. As one of Shakespeare’s least performed works, it is a bold but exciting choice by the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble.
It is a bloody tale of power, politics, family and, primarily, the folly of revenge, with generous dollops of murder, mutilation and rape. As the carnage escalates, one can’t help considering ‘How far would you go to avenge your family?’
QSE’s production avoided wallowing in bleak gore by finding moments of dark humour in the play’s dire circumstances. However, the rape scene is particularly confronting. While not graphic, seeing the very petite Johancée Theron struggling powerlessly in the unyielding arms of Chris Vaag and Austin Caffin makes the physical reality of rape clear and brutal.
It can be difficult to make Shakespeare’s heightened language feel like natural dialogue, but many of the cast achieve this (special mention to Rebecca Murphy in her role as the vengeful, deceptive queen Tamora, and her lover, played by Silvan Rus). The cast also doubles as musicians, leading the audience in and out of each act with lively original music by QSE’s Artistic Director Rob Pensalfini and Silvan Rus.
The venue- the amphitheatre at Roma Street Parklands- means the set and lighting design are minimal, but much like in a traditional production of Shakespeare, this leaves the focus on the story and the actors. Director Zoë Tuffin makes good use of the space- placing the audience on stage, and using the steps of the amphitheater for some of the action.
Despite the gory subject matter, the whole experience of QSE’s Titus in the Parklands is delightful, especially on a clear winter’s night. Your body temperature may plummet, but you can hire a blanket and cozy up with a cup of hot chocolate and imagine that you’re back at the Globe theatre in the early 1600s watching Shakespeare under the stars.