Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Titus Andronicus, Smooth Faced Gentlemen

All female company Smooth Faced Gentlemen brings Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to Bedlam Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s difficult to not pass comment upon the company’s mission as it presents Shakespeare’s texts through a female lens. It never takes away from the action, and as you watch the piece you forget entirely that there are no male actors present. Such is the focus upon the words and the energy which the company brings to the work that it becomes irrelevant that this is all female. However, you can’t ignore the opening up of a female perspective upon the piece.

Director Yaz Al-Shaater creates a stripped-back but energised Titus Andronicus. Not losing the dramatic Shakespearian verse, it’s surprising how rich the outcome is. Henri Merriam in the lead is particularly grounded, there’s something distinct and rough about her portrayal of Titus, whilst still having an openness to her. Ashlea Kaye is wonderful, and the strongest within her multi-role-ing as the feeble Marcus and the brutal Demetrius. In her quiet and harrowing portrayal of Lavinia, Leila Sykes shines; her moments of torment and despair when mutilated sends shivers down the spine.

The rest of the ensemble work well within the short running time, and whilst there may be a certain need for tightening of choral songs and a further depth to some of the cast’s characters, it’s a sound production. For me, though, where the real playfulness comes into it is in the design elements of the production, by Jacob Hughes. The use of paint as blood and paint brushes as swords is excellently conceived and keeps the brutality of Shakespeare’s narrative without having to hide and restrict the gory elements. It’s clear that the cast are enjoying themselves when performing the piece, which aids the work too.

Ultimately, though, there is something missing in this Titus Andronicus. It’s an excellent step for a company to explore a play that deals heavily with the treatment of women in a masculine world, but I wonder if Al-Shaater’s direction for the company could have gone further. There’s plenty of promise and it’s exciting to see Shakespeare’s work presented in this manner, but we need more.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.