In 2006, as part of the research into Titus Andronicus we held a roundtable discussion about stage blood. Here is an extract from the Assistant Director, Richard Hartley in which he discusses the artistic choices governing the style of blood used in Lucy Bailey’s production.
From 24 April there is another chance to see this spectacular production in all it’s gory glory. For more details and tickets click here.
Having been given a few pointers by Farah Karim-Cooper (Globe Education, Head of Courses & Research) on the general direction and premise of the discussion, I set about talking of my experience from the rehearsal room. I hope that in some way I was able to reveal some of the work behind the scenes.
There are two really famous productions of Titus Andronicus that represent blood on stage in very different ways, one directed by Peter Brook and the other by Deborah Warner. Both are very different, both ground-breaking. On a simple level we understood that Brook’s was a vision of tragedy through stylisation, an absurdist take on the grotesque beauty of the play’s events. Brook had the billowing fountain of blood that Lavinia spouts out as ribbons of red silk – striking, jarring and unreal. Warner opted for a super-naturalistic approach having wounds that glistened with seemingly fresh blood. These offered two opposing ends of the dramatic spectrum. Lucy’s (Lucy Bailey, director) response to the ‘blood question’ was to make things real and vivid, a response echoed in the overall direction of the production, blood that would spurt and jump. And this may have been an acknowledgement to the proximity of the audience, the intimacy of the space. It certainly achieved the ‘whoops’ and groans from the groundlings that would be difficult to imagine coming from the stalls of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I see the Globe as a boisterous or at least greedy place, where plays work hard and audiences encourage bold and imaginative interpretations. The feeling of spectacle on entering the space is overpowering. In another time, this type of space echoes a spatial shape for gladiators, and within our own history, a place for bear-baiting. It’s hard to decode the brain from this ‘uncivilised’ need. There is something powerfully alluring about a bloodletting in the Globe. To replace this with ribbons might just seem a little pathetic
I do happen to think that a space like the Globe responds well to large gestures and both a stylistic and naturalist approach could work. However, Titus is a play with so many implausibly violent acts that the ‘real’ seems to suit best. It keeps the play just about grounded and gives the characters true and believable stakes in the action. As an audience we have to believe that the killing of Alarbus, while in many ways a symbolic act, is actually performed. Shakespeare guides us here by the entrance of Titus’ sons holding aloft the entrails of the butchered Alarbus. Without the reality of that act and the other counter-acts the narrative may struggle to engage both the characters’ actions and the audience’s attention. The reality of these terrible deeds is the engine for revenge.
This season’s production of Titus was a crazy, grotesque and nightmarish world, but always believable, always just about real and ‘real’ blood would and could only speak in that same language.
Taken from: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre History Seminar - Stage Blood: A Roundtable, 13 July 2006. You can read the complete proceedings and conclusion of the Stage Blood round table discussion online here.