The KAOS Titus Andronicus
Riverside Studios and tour 2002
KAOS is one of Britain's finest small touring companies, known for a very physical performance style that draws on sources ranging from circus clowning through Berkoffian choreography and mugging.
At their best, the sometimes seemingly incongruous juxtaposition of style and subject can be a theatrical revelation, as when they turned Oscar Wilde's very verbal Importance of Being Earnest into a slapstick romp.
Titus Andronicus is perhaps Shakespeare's least-often produced play, because its wave upon wave of Grand Guignol horrors intimidates or defeats most conventional companies.
(Briefly, the Roman war hero finds himself the target of vicious enemies: his sons are murdered, his daughter raped and mutilated, he conned into mutilating himself and driven mad, until he achieves a horrible vengeance.)
But Shakespeare's phantasmagoria of murder, rape, mutilation, madness and cannibalism proves fertile ground for KAOS's signature mode of eclectic physicality.
Under Xavier Leret's direction, the cast of eight employ all the performance styles in the company's repertoire, with such inventiveness and freedom that if there are three people onstage at any point, it is likely that one will be acting in an entirely different mode from the others.
But this stylistic eclecticism is not random or pointlessly showy. Shakespeare's play of extreme atrocities and extreme revenges actually benefits from an approach that does not shrink from its excesses, but rather underlines them theatrically.
A great deal of stage blood is spilled, but the Grand Guignol approach is carefully controlled, and the company's repertoire of styles is expanded to include moments of quiet naturalism that movingly convey the central character's barely-imaginable depths of pain and despair.
Older than most of the young company, guest performer Lee Beagley brings the gravity of age to the role of Titus, entering the play in a state of exhaustion and making us see the ravages of each new shock to his physical as well as mental health, until he achieves the obscene nobility of bearing the unbearable.
Others in the cast double and redouble roles, with Jane Hartley and Peter Holmes standing out through reflecting the two extremes of bloody horror and quiet dignity.
Neither the play nor the performance style can be for all tastes, and the squeamish are particularly advised to look elsewhere for safer entertainment. But this is a rare opportunity to see an inventive director and company addressing a classical text, and finding theatrically effective ways of serving it.
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of Titus Andronicus - KAOS at Riverside Studios 2002