Shakespeare's very gory story

"Stealing the play every time they're on stage as the incestuous siblings are Alysa King and Matt Stewart, who slither and slide across the stage"

By Greg Burliuk, Kingston Whig-Standard

Titus Andronicusis said to be William Shakespeare's earliest tragedy, so it reveals a young man experimenting with his craft.

It's also one of The Bard's least-performed plays. It's so over-the-top gory that a Shakespearean critic once wrote that it should be played for laughs and directed by Mel Brooks, whose films likeBlazing SaddlesandYoung Frankenstein were loaded with yuks.

Blue Canoe Productions decided not to go the satirical route with its presentation of this Shakespearean play.

Instead, director Ryan LaPlante and his team have come up with a stylish, well-thought-out production that adds a couple of new wrinkles to the play.

It seems as if Shakespeare wrote this play determined to have a killing every two pages of the script.

Titus Andronicus is a Roman general who has just returned home after 10 years of fighting with the Goths. He has brought captives, including Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Despite her entreaties, Titus decides to sacrifice one of her sons in honour of the sons the general has lost in the wars.

This earns the undying enmity of Tamora who soon finds herself in power as the wife of the new Roman emperor Saturninus.

Tamora has lots of allies to help her out, including her Moorish lover, Aaron, and her children, Demetrius and Chiron. Their voyage of revenge litters the stage with bodies. When Titus finds out what they have done, his reprisal is equally as ruthless.

Director LaPlante has trimmed the script from 4 1 /2hours down to 2 1 /2 hours.

He's made Aaron the Moor an albino with tattoos covering his face and every visible part of his body, looking like a refugee from professional wrestling.

In Shakespeare's version, Tamora's two surviving children are rapacious guys, but LaPlante has turned them into an incestuous and very creepy brother and sister.

He's also made excellent use of the uniqueness of the Wellington Street Theatre.

How many theatres have you been in where the second level features the pipes of a pipe organ? That may not be feasible for most plays but it works perfectly here, especially in a couple of weird scenes with the incestuous brother and sister.

The set is a series of boxes, which are moved around accordingly, and one even serves as a pit for a key plot element. And I like his use of entrances and exits as parades to show the formality of life in Roman society.

To ratchet up the ominousness of the play is a continuous soundscape by David McWilliams, electronic music that sends a little shiver up your spine, just in case you lose track of the bodies periodically littering the stage.

The play has a large cast of 22, all of which throw themselves into their parts with vigour. However, sometimes that can mean rushing your lines, which isn't a good thing with Shakespeare.

Reece Presley plays Saturnius the emperor with ferocity, but at one point, he read a letter so fast I couldn't understand a word.

If there is a weak link to this production, it's that the actors, all of them Queen's students, need to keep working on how to say their lines to make them clearer to the audience.

At the same time I enjoyed a lot of the performances.

Tattoos aside, Nathaniel Fried is pretty scary as Aaron, and he is the one who makes the most sense of his lines. As Tamora, Sarah Bruckschwaiger is piteous, two-faced, nasty and always watchable. As Marcus, Titus' brother and the conscience of the play, Mark Rochford is highly empathetic.

As Titus, Robert Elliott is solid but needs to work on giving a more varied performance, especially when he pretends to go mad. Stealing the play every time they're on stage as the incestuous siblings are Alysa King and Matt Stewart, who slither and slide across the stage like a pair of horny snakes.

I'd love to see this team hook up another time with a more modern production because there's obviously a lot of talent here.

As it is, this production ofTitus Andronicusis highly watchable.T

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A play by William Shakespeare Directed by Ryan LaPlante Produced by Michael Sheppard Set design by Steve Sullivan Sound design by Andrew McWilliams

Stage manager -Linzi Leclerc

A Blue Canoe Productions production now playing until Jan. 17 and the Wellington Street Theatre, 126 Wellington St., with performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p. m. and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p. m.


Titus Andronicus -Robert Elliott Tamora -Sarah Bruckschwaiger Aaron -Nathaniel Fried Marcus -Mark Rochford Lucius -Austin Schaefer Lavinia -Rozena Crossman Chiron -Alysa King Mutius -Peter Nielsen

Rating: 3 1 /2 outof five