Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is so gory that audience members have been known to faint from the violence, so the Globe has come up with a kinder way for characters to choke him on stage.
The actors in the theater’s new production will no longer pretend to stick each other in pools of fake blood, but instead commit “murder” against candles.
These candles will be held by the many doomed characters in the play – which has a double-digit body count – and when their time has come to die these metaphorical lights will be extinguished, avoiding the potential upset of person-to-person violence. .
While this may spare any squeamish viewer, the candles themselves will be brutalized with more force than the actors could inflict on each other, being torn apart with meat tenderizer and even melted with a heat gun.
The new symbolic approach comes after Titus’s 2014 run of the Globe during which about 100 audience members passed out or were shocked by the hyper-realistic gore onstage.
Jude Christian, who is directing the new all-female production due to air in 2023, said its candle concept ‘makes it less ugly’, adding: ‘Watching a human pretend to stab another human can be shocking”.
The show nonetheless comes with a trigger-hold of the tragedy’s “extremely shocking” subject matter, which isn’t limited to “extreme violence and death, including bodily mutilation, cannibalism, rape, and self-harm.”
Shakespeare’s 1593 play calls for 14 dead and alludes to more offstage barbarism, as the Roman general Titus seeks revenge for the deaths of his sons, even by placing the remains of two slain enemies in a cake which he then feeds to the their mother.
Ms. Christian had to figure out a way to stage all this carnage in the Globe’s smaller Wanamaker Theater, which is usually lit by candlelight, and she believes her symbolic use of candles will offer audiences the same levels of violence but in a different way.
He explained: “Each person will have a candle, kind of like the candles on your table, a fairly long tapered candle. That is their light, and it will literally be extinguished.
“So imagine another character taking a meat cleaver, a meat tenderizer, and smashing that candle, spraying wax all over the room, to the point where the performers might need to wear goggles and protective gloves.
“Imagine they throw it on the floor or smash it against a wall. It’s a different approach to violence. You have anthropomorphized that object and it becomes, symbolically, that person being attacked.
The wax will “drip like blood”
Ms Christian also suggested that heat guns could be used to melt candles in another symbolically gruesome act of violence, as the wax would “drip like blood”.
He believes the conceit of the candles will shock audiences as he projects the characters onto inanimate objects, and then sees these ‘characters’, slammed into walls, hurled onto the floor, and also slowly ‘smothered’ with jars.
He said: “This approach also allows the actors to feel and show all that anger, nothing has to be held back, they can do whatever they want. I think seeing that genuine emotion on stage is going to be very powerful.
Ms Christian floated the idea of brandishing torches at candles, but said that while flying dry wax might be fun for the public, hot wax would be a health and safety concern.
There were health and safety concerns in 2014 when Lucy Bailey carried Titus on stage and scores of people passed out during her summer run.
Ms Bailey told the Telegraph: ‘We saw the piece as a kind of blood sport. We came up with the idea of creating a sort of temple of death, like a Roman arena.
“We had butchered characters able to fall off stage into a crowd, and of course we had pitches for fake blood. We tried to make the public complicit.
“With the language on top of that, Shakespeare’s poetic language of pain, it was a really intoxicating mix, and that made people crack up.”
Both Mrs Christian and Mrs Bailey said that Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus, is often overlooked as a ‘juvenile’ work due to a ‘sniffing’ attitude that regards the play as ‘almost bloody’, but both directors believe it contains a strong message about violence and revenge and deserves a revival.