The bleak, concrete setting married with the breathtaking backdrop of London’s bewitching skyline adds a welcome texture to one of Shakespeare’s more bloody works, Titus Andronicus. Peckham’s multi-storey car park becomes of a hub of activity during the summer months with Bold Tendencies’ residency and Frank’s on the upper floor drawing huge numbers. The Theory of Everything utilises the site’s popularity to great effect by making it the host of its production.
The actors tear through the space with vigourous determination that is thrilling to watch; the high- octane physicality of the three-hour long production often elicited shrieks from the audience. In saying that, the venue certainly invites further difficulty to the already complicated production. Pia Furtado’s show is adorned with beat-boxing, parkour and even motor vehicles and, on top of that, has the trains to contend with. A sparse number of the actors managed to pause with purpose. Plenty of the cast awkwardly stopped and waited, which generated a distracting acknowledgement of life outside of the play. Most tragically, a few ploughed through the noise to deliver Shakespeare’s text in a muted hum, allowing urban modernity to destroy any meaning to the words.
Reports of fainting audience members are common when Titus is brought into the mix, most recently with the Globe’s production. On this occasion no-one fainted, although one audience member did manage to miss his seat and introduce his bottom to the floor during the iconic dining scene. Adam Burton (Titus) skilfully leapt on the opportunity to acknowledge the blunder, which pretty much sums up the totality of audience interaction. In terms of being ‘immersive’ theatre, I am not sure to what extent this much-used buzzword applied to Furtado’s Titus.
The muddled production gives birth to some moments of dramatic brilliance: the brutal attack on Lavinia (Sonya Cullingford) is handled with the appropriate malaise. Cullingford’s refined depiction of a savaged woman is striking, the inky ‘blood’ that spills from her ruined mouth is jarring to watch, as it should be. The close of the first act is superbly blocked and made excellent use of the space, validating the choice of setting by demonstrating its potential to create interesting, industrial scenes that showcase weighty texts instead of overwhelming them. This formula is not consistent, but in moments it is spectacular. The play loses some of its momentum in the second act; suddenly the brutal acts become routine and lose their potency and the intended comedic scenes fall awkwardly flat.
Though in no way flawless, the production is certainly innovative and, for the most part, the bold attitude toward the material pays off and embraces the liveliness and multifaceted nature of Shakespeare’s work. This is the first theatre show to be held in the space and certainly won’t be the last, however, perhaps future shows will veer away from text-reliant productions. Despite being over three hours in length, the patchy, energetic and youthful production is enthralling.
Titus Andronicus is playing in Bold Tendencies’ Multi-storey Car Park until 21 September. For more information and tickets see the Bold Tendencies website.