Titus Andronicus in Malaysia

AN eye for an eye, a murder for a murder. “It’s not a deep play,” says director Chris Ling of Theatrethreesixty’s latest Shakespeare production, Titus Andronicus. One of Shakespeare’s most popular works, the first to be printed in 1594, Titus Andronicus was grotesquely violent for its time. Only staged in its entirety since Shakespeare’s death in 1923 by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Titus Andronicus is now appreciated as one of the Bard’s iconic works — echoing parallels within the political climate of the 1940s and ‘50s and now, well into modern times. “It’s tit for tat… you kill and so will I. You do me wrong, I seek revenge. The themes are unusual for Shakespearean plays — bloodletting, rape, search for justice, need to avenge,” says Ling, 42, the co-founder and artistic director of the theatre collective.

The story is about the general Titus, returning to Rome from a war against the Goths, who brings with him their queen Tamora and her three sons as prisoners of war. Titus’ sacrifice of Tamora’s eldest son Alarbus to appease the ghosts of his own dead sons, and his decision to refuse to accept the title of emperor, initiates this cycle of mutilation, rape and murder. Also in the nightmare moves a villainous Moor called Aaron, Tamora’s lover.

Titus, trapped in a web of murderous intrigue, must ask himself what more he must lose before something must give. “Titus Andronicus is a violent look at the price of loyalty — where atrocities are considered sacrifices, and revenge is a zero-sum game. “While it asks difficult questions about the nature of complicity — where does conscience end and the rule of law prevail — the audience will be taken by the ludicrousness of the situation,” says Ling.

He adds: “For instance, in one scene, Titus is getting his hand chopped off but one second before that, three people are discussing whether to chop off his right or left hand, and how.” Ling says that the play is a far-out choice to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard. “But I like things that make me uncomfortable, like the violence in this play. I am working on how to stage it in a more palatable manner,” he says.

To help with that is his fight director Michael Chen, a kickboxing instructor as well as screen actor and producer.

“The staged violence is the hardest part of doing this play. People must buy into it, the hyperrealism of the violence — too real to be real,” says Ling. Rehearsals are in full swing at theatrethreesixty’s Black Box in Sentul, with Lim Kien Lee in the titular role, alongside Sheila Wyatt, Tika Mutamir, Nabil Zakaria, Anrie Too, David Lim, Tan Meng Kheng, Shaun Chen, Zul Zamir and Aila Azizul.

The play boasts original music composed by Chen, a graduate of the International College of Music. For theatre newbie Tan, 29: “Playing an older character in this play is tough as I am the youngest in my family. Learning the lines is not hard and with the workshops, things are going well.” The Methodist Boys School Kuala Lumpur almnus did Shakespeare for his English Literature class but admits that acting out Shakespeare’s language did scare him at first. But he got over that with a role in Chin San Sooi’s Macbeth (in 2015 and this year as well).

“I find the bloodlust theme in Titus interesting. I am the voice of reason in the play,” says this freelance teacher, as well as screen actor, who appeared in Marco Polo Season 2. “This is only my second theatre play with Chris; the first was for his Angels In America in 2014. Is theatre a tough sell for a younger audience? I think young people are appreciating theatre more and more of us are supporting local content,” says Tan in his deep, melodious voice, well suited for a “voice of reason”.

Ling says he has cut down some of the text to make the play easier to follow. His 10-member ensemble, including Tan, will take on multiple roles. “I did some blind casting which allows me to explore. You know, for this play I am only directing, and am not the dramaturge. That’s a luxury for me,” says a slightly gleeful Ling, the recipient of the Anugerah Seni Negara (National Arts Awards) Young Talent Award for Theatre Directing in 2009, and Boh Cameronian Arts Award for Best Direction (Musical Theatre) in 2012.

The dramaturge is Lim, who also plays Titus. Lim runs KL Shakespeare Players, the only theatre company in Malaysia dedicated to presenting the Bard on a regular basis. This is Ling’s first collaboration with the KL Shakespeare Players. He hints that there may be some dancing as well in Titus Andronicus, which is part of the DPAC Arts Festival 2016 and marks the Bard’s 400th death anniversary this year (#Shakespeare400).

“Titus Andronicus, like my last play Death Of A Salesman, also reflects the state of the nation. Art is always a reflection of life, for me,” adds Ling.
Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/07/160369/there-will-be-blood

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