Candles take the brunt of the bloodless production of Titus Andronicus

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<p><figcaption class=Photography: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Eight years after a splatter-fest production of Titus Andronicus sent some audience members swooning, Shakespeare’s Globe asks how such murderous horror is generated in a more intimate, candlelit space?

The solution? The candles are taken out.

Jude Christian’s upcoming production of Shakespeare’s goriest and most violent work comes with many warnings, including “extreme violence and death … body mutilation, cannibalism, rape and self-harm.”

For the avoidance of doubt he adds: “This content can be extremely upsetting for many.”

But it will be a very different display of violence in his Sam Wanamaker Playhouse space. Each character, the Guardian understands, will have a candle avatar who is in turn punched, gored, or snuffed out entirely when the text dictates it.

Characters can use meat cleavers, meltguns, or metal meat tenderizers to inflict violence. Sometimes splashed wax means safety equipment will be required. The show, which runs from January to April, has an all-female cast.

The theater is keen to emphasize that the intention isn’t to sanitize violence or spare audiences – and it points to shows like The Woman in Black, which manage to be downright terrifying by relying on audiences using their imaginations.

“It will feel like the audience is in a torture chamber,” said a theatrical source.

“It’s a different approach to violence,” Christian told the Sunday Telegraph.

Christian is believed to be interested in the public’s continued fascination and appetite for extreme violence, as evidenced by the success of the Netflix series Squid Game.

His previous productions include a mashup of Othello and Macbeth. Michael Billington of the Guardian didn’t care much for Othello, but Macbeth was “one of the clearest and most compelling versions of the play I have seen in a long time”.

Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s first and deadliest revenge tragedy with a death toll of 14 deaths compared to 11 for Richard III and 10 for King Lear.

To say that violence sometimes comes often and quickly is an understatement. One of her most memorable moments is when Tamora, Queen of the Goths, is served a pie filled with the cooked meat of her own sons, Chiron and Demetrius.

“Well, here they are, both baked in this pie,” says Titus. “Which their mother fed delicately/ Eating the flesh she raised herself/ It’s true, it’s true! Look at the sharp point of my knife.

At which point Titus stabs Tamora. Saturninus then kills Titus. Lucius then kills Saturninus.

Lucy Bailey’s 2006 production of Titus Andronicus for Shakespeare’s Globe was astonishing for its no-holds-barred bloodthirsty.

The revival in 2014 was even more gory, with reports of audience members passing out when confronted with Lavinia with no tongue or hands.

“Ugly, but also very, very good,” said The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner of the show.

The theater audience effectively became the citizens of Rome in the production. “It spares us nothing… There is no escaping our complicity in unfolding events as heads roll, blood splatters and hearts break.”

Audience fainting is rare but not unheard of in the theatre. At least five people passed out and 40 walked out in the first week of the 2016 National Theater production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed. The show featured characters electrocuted, force-fed, and tortured, including having a character’s tongue removed 20 minutes into the show.

A spokesperson for Shakespeare’s Globe said: “The intimate candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse will become a feast for the senses – with sight, smell and sound all working together to create a kind of survival game torture chamber that holds the action of the work.

“From the gladiatorial arena to the Squid Game we’ve always loved ultra-violent entertainment, and Jude Christian’s Titus won’t back down.

“The candles – who stand in for the characters – will be broken, melted and disfigured – this is the only theater to use the real flame of over one hundred candles per show – what could be more perfect for traversing the fragility of human life, and the comedy horror?

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