Bonar Hall, Dundee
Until April 24
Seen at Sunart Centre, Strontian,
touring until May 15
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s ultra-violent play of revenge in ancient Rome, is seen rarely in Scottish theatres. Popular when it appeared on the Elizabethan stage, its gruesome representations of murder, torture, rape, mutilation and cannibalism led it to be considered a somewhat unworthy melodrama in the centuries after the Bard’s death.
The piece has enjoyed something of a revival in the 20th and 21st centuries, perhaps reflecting shifting attitudes to dramatic depictions of horror and violence. More profoundly, however, it is also a terrible reminder that four centuries of “civilisation” have not expunged from humanity the capacity for atrocity.
Director/designer Stewart Laing’s production for Dundee Rep and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is performed in the University of Dundee’s versatile Bonar Hall, foregrounds the brutality of our own times. Set, in Laing’s brilliantly designed set, in a fashionable, open plan restaurant, called, as the huge, white neon sign informs us “Rome”, the show casts the audience as diners who watch the Roman warrior Andronicus and his enemy, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, cook up a storm of increasingly grisly vengeance.
As Philip Howard’s sharp adaptation cracks along, assisted by JD Twitch’s fine, electronic soundtrack, it’s like Shakespeare meets Masterchef meets Al Jazeera. Laing cleverly circumnavigates the difficulty of representing the play’s extreme violence on stage by flashing videos, seemingly made on mobile phones, on a wall.
There are, in the videos, shades of Isis’s murderous propaganda films. Hooded captives could be from Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. Romans and Goths brought low by their own hubris are reminiscent of the American mercenaries of Blackwater, who were convicted last week for an indiscriminate massacre in Baghdad in 2007.
The cast, which combines professional actors with second-year undergraduate acting students from the Conservatoire, is more uneven among the pros than the students (who acquit themselves well overall). George Anton excels as a savage but increasingly sentient Andronicus, as do Alison Peebles as the warrior’s clever and remorseless sister Marcia, and Tunji Lucas as Tamora’s unrepentant, Moorish lover Aaron.
A tad shouty at times, and not always audible (due to actors occasionally speaking with their backs to you, a hazard of the 360 degree set), this is, nonetheless, and typically of Laing, an impressively original, brilliantly conceived production. As with the recent announcement that Laing’s piece Paul Bright’s Confessions Of A Justified Sinner is to play this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, this fine Titus Andronicus stands as yet another reprimand to arts funding quango Creative Scotland, whose appalling decision to refuse Laing’s company Untitled Projects stable funding may well have killed one of Scotland’s most creative theatre groups.
Important for very different reasons, the latest stage adaptation of Compton MacKenzie’s much-loved novel Whisky Galore, played in Gaelic with English surtitles, brings the National Theatre of Scotland and Glasgow’s lunchtime theatre A Play, A Pie And A Pint together with brand new professional Gaelic company Robhanis Theatar.
At face value, MacKenzie’s wartime tale of a ship full of whisky running aground off a Hebridean island which is suffering an alcohol drought is ideal as an opening production for Robhanis. However, with a cast of just five, Iain Finlay Macleod’s adaptation shoe horns the narrative into the 21st-century, where the denizens of the pub S.S. Cabinet Minister (named after the aforementioned stricken vessel) act out the story as a play-within-a-play.
Despite the best efforts of a variably proficient cast (which includes the excellent Iain Macrae) it is difficult, as the play shifts back-and-forth between 1941 and 2015, to maintain the pace and humour that we have enjoyed in other stagings of this classic tale.
For tour details for Whisky Galore, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 19, 2015
© Mark Brown