Review: Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome

On Thursday 25 September, I saw The Bell Shakespeare Company’s production, “Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome” at the Cremorne Theatre. The play was directed by Michael Gow and starred John Bell as Titus Andronicus.

I was very impressed with this production. It was contemporary (all actors performed in regular clothes and sometimes wore rather absurd masks) and powerful. I wasn’t quite sure how they were going to depict what is probably Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy, and in the end they did it with a lot of blood – a bucket of “blood” centre-stage, to be exact, which the actors flung all over the stage during the course of the production.

The actors did a wonderful job and carried the audience through the entire 2.5 hours without pause and without a hitch. The intermingling of comedy throughout the tragedy certainly helped.

The parts I liked best were where modern objects and references were weaved amongst the Shakespearian ones – books (I think all were actually copies of Shakespeare’s works) were used as weapons and the actor’s monologues frequently featured random modern words thrown in as if to keep the audience on their toes.

However my favourite part was after the play itself, when the actors took some time to talk directly with the audience. This was a wonderful thing for them to do and it resulted in some very interesting discussion. Importantly, we discussed why a play that featured a prominent black character and the violent raping and torturing of a young woman was performed entirely by a white male cast. Several female members of the audience expressed the feeling that they would not have been able to watch the rape scene had it been performed with a female actor, and were consequently glad that a man had played the part. I actually thought the absence of both a dark-skinned actor and a female actor only served to vividly (and almost shockingly) reveal to the audience the racist and sexist undertones in Titus Andronicus, and indeed, in much of the world still today. I was impressed with the way the cast discussed these issues with the audience– they proved to be intelligent and sensitive to the issues. (However, it did not change the fact that the actors could only ever act out their interpretation, as a white male, of what it was like to be a woman or a black man.)

I would highly recommended seeing this production before it closes on 4 October.