Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear you need to go the whole hog. Putting this particular pig through a queer prism doesn't bring home the bacon. Its snout is still resolutely in the trough of tedious revenge.
Bell Shakespeare’s production of Titus Andronicus is visually arresting – a striking opening scene that teases and promises – but the story becomes cloudy as a cold front hitting the coast and the dazzle turns to drizzle and fog.
Drenched in Stoicism, this queered view is steeped in cynicism and the vicious cycle of revenge – Tamora avenging Titus, Titus avenging Tamora – unmerrily rolling along lopping off limbs and heads, explicit infanticide, implicit incest, and a cannibal banquet culminating in a not so dainty dish set before a Queen.
Calipered, close cropped and weathered to leather by the scorch of war and sun, Jane Montgomery Griffith plays the titular Andronicus, with bare breasted, breath giving bravura. Melita Jurisic slams Tamora out of the park as the vengeful, conniving Goth. Although the text has been stripped back, she shines her malevolent presence as darkness visible and also audible in her wailing and gnashing. A grotesque burlesque by a stripper clown cavorted by Catherine Van-Davies has a certain shock value, a lewd buck’s night act laced with sick symbolism. Daniel Schlusser presents a Saturninus as an imbecilic droopy drawered despot.
Though written in Elizabethan times, Titus Andronicus feels Jacobean and so it is with some fitting pun irony that this production is directed by Adena Jacobs. She has chosen to pare the play down into a series of episodes, for example, The Forest: A Snuff Movie, separated by interminable blackout, or projections of endoscopy and flesh wounds.
This production of naked tragedy (taken somewhat literally) is a tightrope walk where audacity falters and the balance of the narrative seems out of kilter.
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold, but perhaps a pocket full of wry may have helped improve this particular pie.
Bell Shakespeare presents
by William Shakespeare
Director Adena Jacobs
Venue: Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Dates: 27 August - 27 September 2019
Bookings: www.bellshakespeare.com.au | 1300 305 730