This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
Hart House Theatre is presenting Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus from March 2- 10. The play features a number of familiar faces in the Toronto Shakespeare scene, as well as some new and promising faces. This production is directed by James Wallis of Shakespeare Bash’d and if you have read any past interviews or reviews, you know that this production is sure to be a thought-provoking take on the play that stays true to Shakespeare’s original text. I was lucky enough to chat with him about Titus and what he wants audiences to know about Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.
Know that the play is one of Shakespeare’s strangest experiments in the grotesque. By that I mean, it exists in a world where the aspects of comic and horrific co-exist, and the line between what thrills us and revolts us is skewed or distorted; reality, like a broken mirror, is real and unreal at the same time. Also, that it is one of Shakespeare’s most violent plays. A lot goes down in this play such as mutilation, murder, and rape. Definitely, a difficult play to stage nowadays but its interior humanity is very Shakespearian, and full of striking poetry and thought.
Why do you see revenge as so central to the play and what parallels do you see between Titus and our modern world? How did our modern global political climate inform your direction of Titus?
The play is about Revenge and but also the result of Revenge. As the company and I have so affectionately said as a sort of motto for the play: “Revenge is Death.” That is very apt and what the play is trying to expose. In terms of our modern world, one of my favourite sayings is that Shakespeare reflects the world as much as the world reflects Shakespeare. I think Rome in Titus Andronicus is a shell of its former self (though the play is anti-historical and Rome isn’t really a definitive Rome). It has to be rejuvenated and reassert some form of new progress. Titus and his family are the traditional, the former guard of this broken world. The morals and the ethics of the Romans are so misguided at this point that they are barreling towards a frantic end of a lost world of order and honour. I like to believe that we are not there in our own world but maybe I’m naïve.
Who is your favourite character in Titus and why?
They all are good but Aaron to me seems to be one of Shakespeare’s finest creations. His wit, his intelligence, his individualism permeates the play. His acts are evil but his conscience is clear. He’s done wrong but has been wronged as well. Aaron is fully aware of himself and his surroundings despite his terrifying acquiescing to the violence that he sets in motion. The part is extremely sophisticated for such a young writer like Shakespeare. Lavinia is uncanny without a doubt, one of the most unique characters in Shakespeare because of her lack of speech and because of that, in my view, she is ripe to misinterpreted.
What do you want audiences to take away from this show?
How much the play discusses the horror and enticement of violence as both natural and unnatural; the result of Revenge bringing both sorrow and carnage; and how the violation and misinterpretation of Lavinia challenges Titus and his family to lend their hearts to understanding and how the choice of Revenge is their own choice to make.
What are you most excited about?
The incredible company of actors working together under the beautiful lights, sounds, set, and costumes of the absolutely amazing design team that I have had the fortune of working with. A clear, driven play as always. And the Clown…it’s cool.
Do you think the play gets the respect it deserves? What do you like most about it?
I think it is a flawed play, possibly co-authored by another writer, but more likely an apprentice tragedy that is both over-the-top and deeply humane. I think that a lot of people look at this play and forget that it is about family and the importance of protecting your kin. Most people remember the blood and gore but forget the grief and loss of Titus. Titus goes through a very difficult journey through his own unconscious self, finding everything he believed to be false. He’s not unlike Lear in that way. Also, such a rare character like Lavinia, a person so wronged and violated by the play and Revenge that our hearts and minds are drawn to her with deep pity.
How have you decided to tackle the extreme and graphic violence in the play?
It’s a surprise! But considering the history of performance of this play, I believe that I fall on the more representational side of the things rather than the realistic.
That Revenge will beget Revenge, in a cycle of violence and death that will cost so much for the future generation. Something lighthearted of course!
It’s a much bigger space obviously and I’ve had to engage on a different perspective of how to view the play because it’s a proscenium. But Hart House is a great theatre, a great place to work. Doug and Andrea have been good to me and supported me entirely in this production. But I still always look at the plays from a place of curiosity and intelligence. I’m always investigating the questions of the play. Also, seeking out clarity, intention, and pace. That’s what most interests me. The actor and the text.
Titus Andronicus runs at Hart House from March 2- 10.
Week 1: Fri. & Sat., 8 pm
Week 2: Wed. to Sat., 8 pm and Sat., 2 pm
Postshow Talkbacks: Sat., March 3 and Thurs., March 8
Preshow Artist Chat: Sat., March 10 at 1 pm