Shakespeare’s most grisly tragedy might seem like an unlikely choice for the Globe to adapt for children, but this re-telling serves up a delicious slice of easily digestible Bard pie.
We’re welcomed as prisoners of the Roman Empire, to be trained in the kitchens. Tom Giles, who gives a chirpy, chatty, comic performance, is our piemaker. Turns out this chef happened to be present at various key moments in the narrative of Titus Andronicus, and he recounts many marriages, deaths, mutilations and sinister baked goods, with lines from Shakespeare subtly intermingled with colloquial chatter. Fear not: this is totally kid-friendly, with no spurting blood or graphic descriptions; Lavinia’s rape is, rightly, excised.
The cute, economical conceit of this one-man show is that Giles uses bits of kitchen equipment to stand in for the characters, moving them round the filthy, realistic kitchen set, laying out the action with stolid clarity. Titus is a monogrammed tea-towel, Chiron and Demetrius a pair of peppermills, Aaron a cleaver. Bassianous is a cake – when he’s killed, Giles crumbles it into a bowl.
By casting the audience as ignorant arrivals, unaware of Rome’s history, the show can spell out and re-cap events through audience interaction and a blackboard of names without seeming patronising. Children in the audience appear perfectly able to keep up—even if they’re more politely engaged rather than rapturously enthusiastic—while those already familiar with the play get considerable pleasure in clocking the neat ways they retell the tale. It’s a tasty combination.