In a time where bear baiting, dog fighting and public executions were the source of entertainment, William Shakespeare sought to find a theatrical equivalent that could compete. Now over four hundred years later, his finished work, Titus Andronicus, makes its way onto The Court’s mainstage to play to Christchurch audiences. 

In his day, Shakespeare was known as the writer of Titus Andronicus. It was his first tragedy, his unrivalled hit and the play that propelled him into stardom. It was also the first of his plays to be revived after their original run.

The story is set during the latter days of the Roman Empire and follows Titus, a war hero who returns from twenty years of campaigning against Rome’s enemies to find his home divided by partisan squabbling. His attempts to restore order to the city he loves unleash the very forces that will tear both the city and his family to pieces, setting off a chain reaction of betrayal, murder and revenge that leaves no one unscathed.

The Court’s Associate Director, Dan Bain, who has helmed countless Forge, Jesters and Kid’s productions, makes his mainstage directorial debut with Titus. “I’m excited about the scale of Titus. It’s a challenge. I feel uncomfortable about it, which means I’m out of my zone. That anxiety translates to dedication, single mindedness and an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach. To me that feels thrilling and dangerous and I think that will be evident in the final product.”

While Bain admits this Shakespearean classic isn’t for everyone, it does fit neatly into the modern-day culture of the hyperviolence we see on television, in the movies and in video games.

“The show should feel like a roller-coaster ride. Fast moving, occasionally sickening but ultimately thrilling,” Bain says. “It's almost like all of Game of Thrones in one evening. So, if you like Game of Thrones you will like it. If you like your theatre visceral you’ll like it. If you come to the theatre to feel something, you will like it. It’s dramatic. Things will happen. It’ll be exciting. It might not be for everyone though...”

Bain’s overarching vision for the production is about honouring the text and the story while making it clear and understandable to a modern contemporary audience, particularly for those who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare. “I really want this to be the answer to the argument that Shakespeare is boring. It should not be boring. It should be understandable all the way through. It should be exciting and a bit gruesome with some funny bits thrown in too.”

To bring the story to life, Bain has compiled a stellar cast led by Owen Black as Titus. Black was most recently seen at The Court as MacDuff in Macbeth but is best known around New Zealand as Shortland Street villain Ethan Pierce. Eilish Moran, most recently seen as Mama Morton in Chicago will play opposite Black as the villainous Tamora. Departing from his usual ‘heroic, nice guy’ role, Cameron Douglas will play Saturninus, one of the biggest villains in the piece, and making his return to The Court’s stage after two years away, Tom Trevella will take on the role of Marcus Andronicus.

In the role of Lucius, Bain has disregarded the gender specific casting by using Kathleen Burns, most recently seen on the mainstage in Steel Magnolias. Ralph McCubbin-Howell will take the stage as Demetrius, Baki Amani will make his Court Theatre debut as Aaron, and fresh from the season of Chicago Fergus Inder, Ben Freeth, Jack Marshall and Olly Humphries. Excitingly, in a first for The Court, a member of the 2017 Court Youth Company, Miriam Qualls, will make the leap onto the mainstage in the role of Lavinia.

While originally set in Ancient Rome, this production of Titus Andronicus is set in a uniquely built world - the world of the play. This has allowed Bain to define the rules of the world based on what happens in the play - a factor which significantly influenced the design of the set by Chris Reddington and costumes by Tina Hutchison-Thomas. “I had a very clear idea of what I wanted the show to look like and I gave those briefs to both my costume and set designers and they really ran with it. Tina’s costumes look fantastic and Chris’ set is simple but evocative,” Bain says.

Hutchison-Thomas was excited by the opportunity, “I get to create the costumes for this unique world where we get to make the rules. I am only restrained by how much I can make and create by opening night!”

Bain is excited by the vision of his designers, “Everything is designed to pull out the theme, character and storytelling via the character’s costume and set pieces. Nothing is on stage that isn’t assisting the storytelling.”

Titus Andronicus opens at The Court on February 17th and runs through until March 3rd.