An evening of Shakespeare controversies – the fourth and last day of Manchester Shakespeare Festival saw some of the play writer’s most contentious aspects revealed.
As part of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012, Manchester experienced four days, from May 23 to 26, of Shakespeare and Shakespeare-inspired productions with the last day featuring ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘A Sonnet For Anne’ and ‘One Other Name’.
One of William Shakespeare’s most controversial and ambitious tragedies, ‘Titus Andronicus’ is often branded Shakespeare’s Tarantino play for its violent and blood-drenched scenes.
Its controversy was probably one of the reasons why it was chosen to build the culmination of the festival.
Condemned by the Victorians for its brutality, ‘Titus Andronicus’ is as gloomy and grim and as tragic and dramatic as any other tragedy of the Bard.
Set in the final days of the Roman Empire and describing a series of horrific revenge acts between the Goths and the Romans, the play is a spectacle of trickery, barbarity and violence.
North-west based PurpleCoat Productions have risen to the challenges of presenting the gory faith of the Roman army general Titus and his family by taking a different approach.
Rather than centring the production around the graphic violence, directors Karl Falconer and Calum Green focus on the deeply emotional core of the play.
Their production revolves around the tragedy of the father Titus (Karl Falconer) and his daughter Lavinia (Rhiannon Wolff) who are ripped apart by the Goths.
After murdering the eldest son of captured Queen of Goths Tamora (Anna Armstrong), Titus is thrown into a cycle of violent revenge.
Tamora’s two surviving sons Demetrius (Calum Green) and Chiron (Olivia Howell) rape Lavinia, cut out her tongue and sever her two hands to prevent her from revealing their deed.
After seeing his hideously mutilated daughter, Titus falls in deep mourning. He is later tricked into cutting off one of his hands.
The play ends with the begging of a new cycle of massacres as the new emperor and Titus's eldest son Lucius (Jack Murray) leads the Goths against his own Rome.
While the first part of the evening focused on William Shakespeare’s blood-drenched
Titus Andronicus, the following two Shakespeare-inspired productions sought to explore his personal live.
The engaging and innovative performance of PurpleCoat Production presented Shakespeare’s controversial play in a new light by emitting emotions rather than violence and even provoking some sympathy for the otherwise cruel and revengeful Roman general.
Shakespeare horror was followed by the rather personal ‘A Sonnet For Anne’ by Indulgence Theatre Company – an imaginative exploration of the last few days of Shakespeare’s life.
Sent by King James (Kevin Troughton) and Queen Anne (Alex Troughton), Ben Jonson (John Armitage) visits William Shakespeare (Richard Wood) in Stratford where he has retired after years of acting and writing in London.
Ben Jonson brings William a gift – a book of Shakespeare’s own sonnets. The book sparks a painful and revelatory dialogue between the writer and his wife Anne Shakespeare (Liz Lucas), who starts to question and seek to uncover the secrets behind the sonnets.
Embedded in the performance were two mysterious players (Stephen Gillard and Jo Hollingworth) who weaved in and out of the action and recited the sonnets.
‘A Sonnet For Anne’ sought to explore Shakespeare’s relationship with Anne who fell victim to his husband’s passion and devotion to work.
It also hints on the writer’s sexuality and his admiration for the beauty of a young boy who inspired some of his most emotional sonnets.
This admiration is also picked up in the last play – ‘Any Other Name’ by Liverpool-based What We Did Next. Written by Liz Ford, the story is adapted from ‘The Portrait of Mr W.H.’ by Oscar Wilde.
Set in a modern gay bar, the narrative revolves around Oscar Wilde’s (Luke Barton) fascination with the possibility that Shakespeare’s sonnets were dedicated to a beautiful boy-actor (Jak Malone) who became his muse.
With a modern and bold approach to Wilde’s story and a soundtrack including Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun and Echo & The Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon, the performance cheered up the audience and brought it back to the 21st century.
It rounded up a four-day journey into the world of Shakespeare – a realm full of love, passion, humour but also blood, revenge and controversy. A world that will always attract by its completeness of human emotions.