Titus Adronicus, directed by James Wallis, is Hart House Theatre’s last production for the season. Written by Shakespeare around 1588, this play is said to be the bard’s most macabre piece.

Titus Andronicus (David Mackett) is a Roman hero who has returned from 10 years of war. With him he drags along a band of prisoners: a family of Goths and Aaron the Moor. Goths refer to the German people who invaded Rome and Aaron the Moor is an African Muslim. These people in the context of the play are considered enemies of Rome, and as a ritual, Titus sacrifices the Goth Queen’s eldest son in exchange for the sons he lost in war.

This initiates the play’s horrors by sparking a hunger for revenge in the Queen of the Goths, Tamora (Shalyn McFaul).

Meanwhile, upon Titus’ return, Saturninus (Tristan Claxton) rises to power and claims his throne as the new emperor of Rome. Originally, Saturninus is to marry Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Bailey Green), but she flees and he takes Tamora as his queen instead.

Tamora seizes this opportunity to reign terror on Andronicus’ family. The sneaky seductress and her secret lover Aaron (Shawn Lall) organize for the murder of Bassianis (Megan Miles), which is later framed on Titus’ two sons Quintus (Nathaniel Kinghan) and Martius (Theodor Iordache). In an attempt to redeem his brothers, another of Titus’ sons, Lucius (Dylan Evans), is banished from Rome.

After Tamora’s plan succeeds she enlists her two sons, Demetrius (Felix Beauchamp) and Chiron (Thomas Nyhuus) to do what they will with Lavinia.

What they willed was to rape her. They carved out her tongue to keep her silent. They lobbed off her hands so she couldn’t write their names.

Titus’ sister Marcus (Anne MacKay) happens upon Lavinia in the woods. The sight of Lavinia enflames Titus and the thirst for revenge overtakes him.

Aaron tricks Titus into believing that he can exchange his hand for the life of his two sons. Aaron slices off his hand and in return gives Titus the severed heads of Martius and Quintus.

The murder and mutilation of his children drives Titus insane.

Shakespeare is difficult to do; it’s basically in a different language.

One actor drew me in with her performance. McFaul paced her lines well and used her body language to convey character. She helped me understand the lines and the motives behind them. My favourite part about McFaul’s performance was her ability to command the stage, which fit her powerful role. Her manipulation of Lucius that was seen in her face and in the aggressive physical manipulation of Lucius’ body.

Mackett and Evans brought a much-needed intensity to the piece. Mackett played Andronicus beautifully in the second act. His madness was witty, scary, and human. Mackett turned an otherwise impersonal role for me into an amiable character that I could empathize with.

Beauchamp and Nyhuus added humour to the piece. Their vast height difference added to the brother’s comedy.

Though there was good reason to hate their characters, they still pulled laughs from the audience.

A nice addition was the role of the jester (Laura Darby) who appeared during every death and marked murders with balloons, ribbons, flowers, and confetti, which encapsulated the balance of frivolity and terror in the piece

The performance would have been heightened if every person on the stage was acting at all times. At points, I was distracted by background characters in the scene that seemed to be bored, which drained energy from the piece.

Overall, I think the show could have been more engaging. However, a few key characters brought the livelihood into the gruesome tale of Titus Andronicus.

Titus Andronicus ran at Hart House Theatre from March 2 to 10.