By Lory Diaz
Hart House Theatre is closing off its 2017-18 season with the bloodiest of Shakespearean tragedies: Titus Andronicus, directed by James Wallis. Torontonicity was invited to attend the opening night of the play on March 2, 2018 – the play has a short run and closes on March 10, 2018. If you’re interested in seeing this production, please note that there is extreme violence and disturbing scenes, making it the least family-friendly play of this year’s season.
Titus Andronicus is set during the Roman Empire, and focuses on the vindictive relationship between Roman General Titus (played by David Mackett), and Tamora (Shalyn McFaul) the captured Queen of the Goths. The two characters engage in a gruesome downward spiral of revenge on one-another which leads to shocking violence and heartbreaking tragedy for all involved.
Director Wallis notes that his creative vision was driven by intention and pace, in hopes of bringing clarity to the language that can leave so many audiences lost until the closing scene. I must say that thanks to the incredible acting of the cast, he was successful. Both Mackett and McFaul deliver brilliant performances, reciting each line with such vigour, emoting the darkest and most challenging of human emotions with the utmost sincerity.
I would also like to highlight performances from Shawn Lall (as Aaron the Moore, Tamora’s lover), and Annie MacKay (who played Marcus Andronicus – Titus’s sister). Lall was fantastic in his supporting role, though he was essential to the emotional unraveling and eventual descent into chaos experienced by all; his madness and determination is so clear and amazingly acted, that the audience can’t help but connect with his character!
Annie MacKay demonstrates such a sensitivity to her character’s struggle: Marcus is left picking up the broken pieces of the family after a disturbing discovery. Her raw sorrow leaves many in the audience holding back tears. I can’t wait to see what else this fantastic cast takes part in, as I’m sure it will be amazing!
Alongside the strong performances from the cast, Lighting Designer Melissa Joakim must also be congratulated. The subtle changes in lighting underscore the focus without distracting from it, as can unfortunately be the case in some plays. Joakim creates an ease of movement, allowing the audience to follow action and dialogue sequences without ever getting lost among the turmoil and violence.
Allie Marshall’s costumes were quite modern, with characters dressed in either grey or jewel tones depending on what family to which they’re tied. One might interpret the more colourful outfits of the Goths as highlighting their otherness as captives of the serious and ruling Roman family. At times, the palette makes the characters appear more playful when compared to their monochromatic counterparts.
I enjoyed the fact that when Tamora and her sons attempt to trick Titus, their costumes are completely black. I interpreted this as an attempt to tie the Goths Queen to the Romans visually by making her a part of their colour scheme – a subtle but effective way of indicating a strategic move on behalf of the vengeful Queen.
The colourful palette of the Goths also ties them visually to the clown that appears during violent or gruesome scenes. This is eerie and unsettling for the viewer, as the clown moves in carefree and jovial ways while truly wicked things are acted out on stage. So, if you have a fear of clowns, please keep this character’s appearance in mind when purchasing tickets!
Set Designer Holly Myer-Dymmy created a very stylized tree that doubled as a throne-like platform, with muted greys and browns. Half a dozen panels with bark-like texture, and chain-link fence on wheels were used to change the foreground and main space for characters. I would have preferred if the stark criss-crossing lines (they appeared to be a piping of sort) in the background that appeared as scattered branches – like a minimalist forest – were used on the moveable panels instead.
Overall the play was enjoyable and successful in creating a clear and understandable production of a difficult Shakespearean tragedy. The acting really stood out for me, as there was never any misunderstanding on intention or moments of unease. I would absolutely keep an eye out for this cast in the future, and hope that they keep enriching Toronto’s dramatic art scene with their talent. Fantastic job from the entire cast!
Titus Andronicus at Hart House Theatre runs until March 10, 2018. Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors $17 and Students $15. On Wednesdays, student admission is $12. Book online and pick up tickets at the Hart House Theatre Box Office before the show.