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Titus Andronicus

"Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge." Act I, scene ii

Written: 1593

Semaver Kumpanya ; May 24, 2010 Istanbul, Turkey
Director : Isil Kasapoglu ; Starring : Asil Büyüközçelik, Burcu Tekin, Emre Kiliçoglu, Fatih Dönmez, Mehmet Seker, Mustafa Kirantepe, Nadir Saribacak, Sabahattin Yakut, Sarp Aydinoglu, Sebnem Hassanisoughi, Serkan Keskin, Sezin Bozaci, Ugur Senkeri, Ümit Ilban, Volkan Muzaffer Sariöz
Reviewed on : 2010-05-25 14:36:03 ; Reviewed by : Antonia Mandry

Photo Credit: Utku Inan
In trying to describe the feel and rhythm of the Semaver Kumpanya's production of Titus Andronicus, I find myself resorting to a fusion of pop culture keywords: hard rock musical, Lord of the Rings meets Wagner's Ring Cycle, Blade Runner and Highlander had a bloody baby. In fact, while having faint echoes of all of these and more, Semaver has actually managed to create a performance that is unquantifiable and defies clear description. Yet, I will do my best.

There are several items that create this particularly unique performance: the use of music, the visual interpretation, the dedication to violence and the textual updating. The music as a central element is introduced immediately at the start and adds an element of a death metal club atmosphere. The curtain rises on 4 men in metal barrels showering in time to screeching guitar riffs. They receive towels from Lavinia and climb thusly clad out. Later, with the scene change to the introduction of the main characters, there's a moment of modest head-banging as they pose for the audience to take in their look and quality. Another noticeable musical interlude is when everyone is partying just before the attack on Lavinia. It seems that Goths and Romans, friends and enemies, all party together at the local club complete with strobe lights and blackboard-scratching music. It seems that decadence is a rock bar.

In fact, the whole look of the production is as if someone opened up a club in a converted water treatment plant, complete with pipes, curtains made out of chains, and random large metal circles that people use as doorways. The raised stage is ringed by bloody metal pikes and the overall effect is one of a decadent and decaying industrial civilization and rusted steampunk. The costumes too serve this purpose with Aaron's costume, including nose ring, metal finger and golden ribcage, perhaps the most indicative of that. Many characters had layers of costumes with military coats or dresses embellished with Metropolis-like headdresses and Borg eyepieces. Here I go again with the references: Titus had a shoulderpiece that looked like a metal skeletized version of the Kurgan's in Highlander. Tamora as prisoner wore heels, glamrock make-up and bearskins. Tamora as queen wore the headdress with a whispily layered purple dress and one heel, one boot. Lavinia, who of all was the most understated in the clothing department, wore a white linen tunic belted by an enormous plastic sporran. Demetrius looked like an emaciated heroin addict while Chiron was a bearded bear. And all were at one point or another coated with a generous amount of blood.

The audience was presented at curtain rise with spurting blood: a clear indication of Isil Kasapoglu's directorial dedication to the violence that drips from the pages of Shakespeare's play. Almost immediately the stage is cleared for the first of many gruesome executions of Shakespeare's nastiest displays of savagery. Tamora and her sons are dragged in chains onto the stage where one of her young sons has his throat slit in a grisly display of full frontal bloodshed. Blood spurting, his body is then dumped off the stage at the foot of the audience where the actor lies like a slaughtered dog until the next scene change. Lavinia's rape and mutilation is handled in a particularly gruesome way. Her lover's throat is slit in front of her and then her attackers hold her down on top of his dead body as they tell her exactly what they will do with her. At one point, her knees are pried open as Chiron menaces over her and I wondered wildly whether the rape was going to happen onstage. Luckily, the audience is spared that, perhaps only in preparation for the lurid and bestial displays of barbarity soon to follow. Marcus appears on stage to see the body of his ravished niece afar and, in going to her, literally stumbles over her excised hands as she chokes up blood from the stump of her tongue. She is awash with her own blood and her hair is a tangled matted mess, and yet her pristine boots and long white legs give her the look of a bloody Barbie doll. As if this is not enough, soon after the unrecognizably mutilated heads of two more sons of Titus are presented in a cage on stage when Lavinia whisks off the cage covering with her mouth like some macabre magician.

As always with a play in translation, how Shakespeare's language is treated becomes a major issue. In this case, it was not translated but adapted, altered, substitute and sometimes discarded completely. Saturninus periodically swears ("Fuck, man"), scenes take place in clubs, and characters reference cocaine. In one particularly humourous scene, we are treated to Aaron sticking his hand down the front of his pants, winking at us and then withdrawing a bag of white powder. This adaptation by Sinan Fi?ek is in keeping with the overall look and sound of the production as envisioned by Kasapoglu and company.

The actors menace, roar, bleed and stomp their way across the stage. Big-eyed amazon Lavinia is a galumphing naif who transforms into a ridiculous bloody prop, while "Maganda" (lout) Titus roars like a stuck bull. Rage oozes from every actor. What is the company trying to say with this production? That there is no difference between the civilized Romans and the barbaric Goths? Certainly, it's hard to tell the difference between them based on either costume or action. Both commit completely to violence and revenge, a cycle begun at the first and ending with the last scene. The play is consumed with it. From the acting to the message, all the parts of this production work in concert -- you may not agree with it, but it does work.

My final thought on Semaver Kumpanya's Titus is that I am running out of adjectives to describe it.

Samuel Woodforde,
Lavinia, Demetrius and Chiron

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