On a hot, still evening, with the black velarium slung over the hole in the roof intensifying the the sense of claustrophobia and stillness, the Groundlings fell like flies in this electrifying blood-soaked production of Titus Andronicus.
Never have I seen the space of the Globe used so effectively. Romans declaimed from atop mobile platforms pushed through the Groundlings by willing slaves. Goths rushed through the audience from the side-entrances. The Groundlings themselves formed the wall of the pit into which Titus' sons were cast.
And on the stage the bodies mounted in a blood-soaked parody of a teen-horror flick. As Lavinia is brought onstage post-mutilation, her hand-stumps soaked in rags and blood flowing from her mouth, and falls twitching to the ground in post-traumatic shock, that's when the blood, heat and intensity starts to get too much for the Groundlings and they start to keel over - at least four fainting by my count, a remarkable testimony to the intensity of Lucy Bailey's vision.
All performances were immense. Douglas Hodge dominated as a grieving, maddened Titus, spitting his hatred with precision. Shaun Parkes as Aaron has all the best lines, which he declaimed with such clarity and intensity - even as being carried bodily through the audience - that he must be considered an up-and-coming star on the Shakespearean scene. And Laura Rees radiated such stillness as Lavinia - both pre- and post-mutilation - that her twitchings and writhings were so much more shocking.
Titus is a difficult play. Its original conception is uneven, its excesses are such that it comes at times close to parody. Yet this remarkable production eschews such problems. The audience, brought up on Halloween and Reservoir Dogs, respond knowingly to the ultra-violence. In this respect Titus Andronicus is the coming play of the 21st Century, and performances, unheard of until the 1950s and rare thereafter, are likely to become more common. But any subsequent productions will find this remarkable evening difficult to emulate. Tonight, The Globe has truly come of age as a cutting-edge dramatic space.