William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is notorious for being the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s already dramatic tragedies, and for having the most deaths of any other play. As for Rumble Theatre’s The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius, it has all that (with a checklist of dead characters for the audience’s convenience). But it also has a group of misfits who just want to put on a play “because it has 14 murders,” funded by the taxpayer. The Society for the Destitute is made up of Sob (Peter Anderson), who plays the tragic Titus, Boots (Sarah Afful) who plays bloodthirsty Aaron, Spark (Naomi Wright) who plays the strong-willed and ruthless Tamora, Leap (Pippa Mackie) who plays the surprisingly feminist character of Titus’s daughter Lavinia, and Fink (Craig Erickson) who plays both Saturnius and Bassianus. The rest of the characters are played by dolls that the actors carry around. It’s as bizarre as it sounds, but somehow it all works out.
They blunder through their lines, forget which play they’re in, get confused and sidetracked, and talk to the audience. This, combined with whacky outfits, smeared makeup, and an eclectic and creative set (which deserves a special shout out), allows The Society for the Destitute to put on a play that is entropic in its nature. It is chaos but it ends up accomplishing exactly what it set out to do. It takes the Shakespearean tragedy to a level of absurdity which, frankly, it occasionally deserves. It is humorous, sometimes cringey, with sprinkles of social commentary.
A word of warning: this play is not for the faint of heart. There are lots of dead babies, there is rape, there is tons of profanity and tongue-in-cheek humour, and (of course) lots of blood. But there is also an exploration of human themes like grief, revenge, morality. The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius at first presents itself as a chaotic project by confused misfits, but in reality it is an intelligent (if not eloquent) commentary on the Shakespearean classic and the complexities of the world which we navigate.
The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius will run at The Cultch until Sunday, December 3. Tickets can be found here.