This is the stuff I love. Table work: getting down to the nitty gritty of what you’re saying and why you’re saying it; engaging in accidental debates that leave you concluding things like “Yes! My character essentially IS Khan!*”
There’s plenty to chat about with Titus – especially when you have eight actors covering somewhere between twenty-five and thirty characters and only one hour to perform it. Just to contextualize, that’s at least thirteen on-stage deaths, a rape, two mutilations, a live burial, cannibalism, an uprising, insanity, racism and an almighty final act bloodbath to rival the collective body of work of Leatherface. Something tells me we’re not in Kansas anymore. And it’s clear as we wade through this bonkers Jacobean slasher-thriller that it’ll take more than balled-up socks in our pants for us to get to grips with these complex characters. Not to mention the plot, which has you debating its twists and turns like Leo riding the kicks back up the layers in Inception.
I’m having a tremendous amount of fun. Like I said, this is the stuff I love.
But I have to confess to some serious sock envy. As one of only two gents that play women in the production, there comes the inevitable moment of disappointment in rehearsal when the director instructs the other six actors to reach for their cotton/wool-mix phallus while Lavinia and I continue to circle the room, dejected, having been separated from our makeshift chaps. It doesn’t help that I’m also useless at any of the competitive rehearsal games as well, so can’t even compensate through brutal play. Never mind, I’m sure it’s character building. Bottle it. Use it. It’ll inevitably lead to a moment where I drop to my knees and scream, “TiiiiiTUUUUUS!”
Table work goes on for three sessions. During the second session we all eat so many sweets that it’s like trying to get a group of five-year-olds to explain nuclear fission. The work we do is vital, and by the end of the sit-down session I reckon we’re all feeling much more secure in what we’re saying and why. Then playtime begins…
We go through the play scene by scene and lay different scenarios over the text to see how context changes the dynamic. It unlocks new meaning, throws up new questions, leads to some exciting discoveries and makes us all do a lot of laughing. We witness Titus: The Game Show, Titus: The 40s Noir, Titus: The Apprentice and (most raucous/disturbing) Titus: Kindergarten Cop.
When you read through Titus it’s easy to let the relentless brutality overshadow how funny the play actually is, and watching the scenes take shape and the cast begin to embody these extraordinary characters I realise that our ability to laugh at them is what makes us care about them most. At least, I think it does.
At the moment it feels like we’re asking far more questions than we’re answering which is incredibly exciting and can only be a good thing. Hell, these exercises led to the necessity of printing out a picture of Mrs Weasley as inspiration for Tamora. Who knew?
*This may very well just be wishful thinking.