“A classic Shakespearean tragedy”: Titus Andronicus

The Black Hole Theatre brings violent tragedy Titus Andronicus to stage for first time in Winnipeg theatre history

Photo credit to Lauren Siddall.

“Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand, blood and revenge are hammering in my head” – Titus Andronicus, 2.3.38-39

With Halloween in the past, the latest production at the Black Hole Theatre Company is giving you one more reason to be entertained by death and gore with the classic Shakespearian tragedy Titus Andronicus.

The Black Hole Theatre Company is the the practical branch of the University of Manitoba’s theatre department. The company provides students with experience at all levels of running a full-scale theatre production – from the actors onstage to the backstage crew cueing the lights.

Co-directed by Black Hole Theatre veterans Bill Kerr and Chris Johnson, Titus Andronicus will be one of three main stage plays that the company will put on for the season. This is also the first time in Winnipeg theatre history that Titus Andronicus will be staged.

As a Shakespearian revenge tragedy, Titus Andronicus is not for the faint of heart. Telling the tale of Titus Andronicus, a Roman general who has returned from 10 years of war, Titus has captured Queen of the Goths, Tamora; Aaron, the Moor; and Tamora’s three sons. After sacrificing her eldest son, Tamora pledges revenge on Andronicus as the play quickly escalates into a series of killings, torture, rape, and cannibalism.

The play was most likely written in late 1593, making Titus Andronicus Shakespeare’s first tragedy. It was extremely popular during his lifetime. While the play has endured mixed reviews from critics comparing it to other works by Shakespeare, the tragedy’s dark and sadistic nature can be cited as influencing our present-day horror pictures.

Titus [Andronicus] is [by] the young Shakespeare in his ‘Tarantino’ phase, using all the elements of staging and violence, tragedy and black comedy to surprising, disturbing, hilarious, and devastating effect,” explains co-director Bill Kerr.

What is most shocking about this play is the abundance of blood and violence. With the Black Hole production, Kerr ensures the play will include the classic Shakespearian violence, as well as a new modern twist.

“We have decided to use weapons from multiple periods ranging from ancient Rome to the present day, so that we can see examples of violence from multiple times done in many ways to a variety of victims,” explains Kerr.

“Each act will leave a trail of blood and decay that will accumulate and culminate in the pile of bodies that is the inevitable end of this tragedy.”

Ian Bastin, a theatre student at the U of M, plays the lead, Titus Andronicus, in the production. Bastin, who has acted in past Black Hole productions, speaks highly of the theatre company and its support for students.

“If I were making my living as an actor right now, I would never get a role like this. It would be years before I got a role like this,” says Bastin.“[The Black Hole Theatre] gives you an opportunity that you wouldn’t get anywhere. And I have almost learnt more in plays in Black Hole [Theatre] than I have in my course work.”

Although this is the first time Titus Andronicus will be performed in Winnipeg, both Bastin and Kerr recognize why Shakespeare and his play are still relevant 500 years later.

“I think his themes are very universal [ . . . ] Some of the themes in this play I think are being felt now in the news,” says Bastin.

“[Shakespeare] happened to inhabit the time of the great sea change in thought we call modernity and had the genius to capture this moment in language and action in plays that [. . .] invented what we now call human,” explains Kerr.

Titus Andronicus will be performed at the Black Hole Theatre, located on the lower level of University College (210 Dysart). The play will be performed Nov. 18 and 25 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 19-22 and26-29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors, available at the door or in advance (contact 24-hour box office at 204-474-6880).