The Bard's most brutal play is toned down for kids.
The last production that Shakespeare’s Globe staged of the Bard’s famously bloody roman tragedy was so violent it had people fainting in the aisles. In this new version they tone down the gore for a re-telling of the play aimed at kids. There’s mention of tongues being cut out and beheading, but the buckets and buckets of blood are definitely out.
This new adaptation from Harper Ray and Adam Sibbald is told from the point of view of Titus Andronicus’s pie-maker (the one who has to serve up the general’s revenge in the form of a piping hot human-meat pie). It’s the chef and us: a group of non-Roman slaves and prisoners who have been dumped on his turf for training. As he trundles around the kitchen, he explains recent events in Rome, and unravels the nasty tale of what happened when the brother of the Emperor, Titus Andronicus, crossed the queen of the Goths. Everything is acted out with anything that comes to hand, which includes spoons, knives and bunches of grapes.
Tom Giles plays the pie-maker and he is affable and completely clueless about his part in the grand plan of revenge – the chef doesn’t like to ask questions about what was baked in that pie. Though the pie-maker quotes the odd speech from the original – betraying his pride at how eloquent Rome’s rulers can be – this 'Titus' is not about getting kids into Shakespeare’s language. It’s about breaking down the plot and familiarising younger audiences with the characters.
Giles is excellent: funny and down-to-earth, he keeps things low-key yet creates the towering story, the tragedy and the violence well. Two lettuce halves become the heads of the two sons of Tamora – Demetrius and Chiron – on a blackboard he writes down all the names of all the characters so we, the non-Romans, will get them.
The show is pretty wordy still and if your child is younger than about 7, they may struggle a little with the story. But everyone older should be engaged by the piece, which is a fun, accessible and simple door into one of Shakespeare’s darkest tales.