An astoundingly successful reading of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus on an altogether new platform. The screen is the stage. It’s a conference call of characters. It’s Elizabethan theatre for the 21st century with all the vitality of a live performance.
Weekly readings of the complete works of Shakespeare by a global cast.
Titus Andronicus is a general in Ancient Rome who returns from war victorious, but having lost all but four of his twenty-one sons. This is a very bloody play, an early work of Shakespeare’s that’s a tug-of-war between honour, tradition and a considerable amount of revenge. As is often the case with Shakespeare, our sympathies stretch from the characters we like to encompass even the loathsome.
The Show Must Go Online title their weekly Shakespeare dramas as “readings” but dare I say, they’re doing themselves an injustice because they are much more than that. What they’ve achieved sits somewhere between a reading and a stage play. Lord knows what you’d call it. They’ve genuinely rendered a new platform to experience Shakespeare. And it works surprisingly well on so many levels. I really didn’t expect to be taken by it but I have: indeed, I declare myself a fan!
Via this Zoom platform, Shakespeare’s work is delivered with all the energy and vitality of a live performance. It’s Elizabethan theatre with all the drama and excitement and anticipation. The show even abounds with chatter from ‘the yard’ as ‘commoners’ crowd around the stage pouring their oohs and ahhs, praise and boos from the chat room alongside the stage. This too lends itself to the immediacy of the performance.
When does a mere reading require such stage directions and use of props? It went beyond a reading, each character encapsulated in their own screen, reaching us from their own podium, brilliantly choreographed by the production team. In Act 1 Titus is curiously wearing gloves: but this is genius, for when Lavinia enters in her own remote space, welcoming her father’s return to Rome, we see her face lovingly caressed by the same gloved hand – Dad’s.
There are scenes in this gruesomely violent play, that don’t make the standard stage. Here stage direction delivers a pop-up podium when Lavinia’s tongue is cut off. Yes, we see the gruesome business take place in real time.
When Aaron is inciting Chiron and Demetrius to do their worst, all three characters are leaning heavily into the camera. The word’s the thing and, as Rob Myles illuminates in discussion after the play, Shakespeare is very much an auditory experience. Still, this is a play to be seen and here we very clearly see Aaron, full of merciless glee and calculation, a beckoning Uncle from Hades, and the two Goth brothers expressing their filthy amusement and musings over his vile incitement.
Theatre that is filmed to be broadcast on the screen often loses its vitality and effectiveness in that it’s very clear you’re watching a theatre performance re-directed to watch away from the live experience. This performance has you there, in the theatre, part of the theatre, experiencing it in this altogether new medium, a new venue. It’s a new venue! Hail the new stage!
As more and more of us are now accustomed to meeting on Zoom or platforms of a similar ilk in the age of social distancing it’s marked that each character comes to us from their own room, their own space, into a virtual shared auditorium.
The cast transmit from London in the main but also Vancouver, Glasgow, Bristol, Los Angeles and New York. The audience too are an international lot; we’re gathered from London, Milan and I do believe I saw someone from Sarajevo.
I can thoroughly recommend this production and look forward to the next reading/performance next week.
Directed by: Rob Myles
Produced by: The Show Must Go On
Live streamed: 22 April 2020, and weekly every Wednesday
Can be found alongside previous readings: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBFO-wpdFFypTYtKyK7CEBCBgFZtRmL0z
Text Editing: Dan Beaulieu
Casting Director: Sydney Aldridge
Stage Manager & Master of Props: Emily Ingram
Fight Direction/Stunts: Yarit Dor & Enric Ortuno
Sound Design: Adam Woodhams
Associate Producers: Natalie Chan, Matthew Rhodes
Social Media: Lucy Aarden
Infrastructure Support: Dr Ed Guccione, Dr Kay Guccione
Zoom provided by: Paraffin Ltd