I won't lie: Titus Andronicus will never rank amongst my favourite plays. My first encounter with the text came during my final year of university, when I was simultaneously studying two different modules on Shakespeare. The first week of term saw me reading Titus alongside The Taming of the Shrew. At this point, I very nearly decided that I didn't like Shakespeare any more.
That said, I did end up actually writing on Titus in my final essay (alongside the infinitely more entertaining Richard III). As such, I'm as aware as anyone that there are a lot of interesting things going on in this play. Unfortunately, it is one of a very tiny number of theatrical works that I'd probably prefer to read than to see, and not because, like certain other critics, I think that it's a shocking abomination of a play. Quite the contrary: performed on stage, it's mostly rather dull.
This is the combined result of boring Marcus's long, boring speeches (which you can skim over much more quickly on the page), and the barrage of devices used to distance us from its universally appalling characters and excessive violence. After all this, there's very little left to actually engage us in the action of the play. There's the humour, for sure, and where this play is funny it's hilarious. But the tone is inconsistent, and there isn't enough comedy to fully justify even the comparisons made in the programme between this youthful Shakespeare and Quentin Tarantino (who I personally think is over-rated anyway - at least Shakespeare made some other things as well). In sum, I don't think that this is a bad piece of work and I wouldn't be silly enough to dismiss it as stupid juvenilia. I recognise that everything that annoys me about it is wholly deliberate, and I understand what it is trying to achieve.
I still don't like it.
So much for Titus in general. All my prejudices aside, the quality of this particular performance was difficult to fault.
The RSC's current production of Titus Andronicus is virtually every bit as good as it could possibly be, with well-thought out design and a generally fantastic cast. I loved the styling of the Goths especially, and Stephen Boxer made an excellent Titus (funnily enough, the last thing I saw him in was a rather depressing production of The Taming of the Shrew...). The play's young cast were exceptional, particularly Perry Millward and Jonny Weldon as Chiron and Demetrius, chilling in their complete credibility (I'm sure I've seen those characters for real somewhere before). All of Titus' offspring did a great job of bringing their characters to life, especially Rose Reynolds as Lavinia and Matthew Needham as Lucius, and even those in non-named parts showed flashes of brilliance, with Ellie Beaven shifting impressively from her chavtastic concubine part to her much more proper and respectable handmaid role.
If there was an obvious weak link, it was Kevin Harvey as Aaron, who mostly failed "seethe" with what Andrew Dickson describes in the programme as his "volatile energy". Aaron should be as gleeful in his crimes as Richard Gloucester; and as seductive in his wooing of the Queen as Richard is with Anne. Harvey's emotional responses, on the other hand, all seemed rather half-hearted. I wasn't fully convinced, either, by Katy Stephens' Tamora: it wasn't a terrible attempt, but she was certainly no match for Stephen Boxer and his Titus. A little more stage presence and commanding of attention would have gone a long way.
Overall though, this was a very strong production - tight, coherent, and funny. Most of all I loved the final, full-on, Hammer Horror-style bloodbath. More things should end with everyone dying hilariously and utterly outrageously. It was so well done, it was almost very nearly enough to make me dislike the play a bit less. And I promise you that's high praise.