What can you do with Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a play full of murder, mutilation, and rape, culminating in a mother eating a pie filled with her sons’ ground-up body parts? For centuries it was dismissed as the early aberration of a genius, a sop to the bloodthirst of Elizabethan audiences (the play may have been performed as early as 1590). Since Julie Taymor’s film Titus (1999), it has become a testing piece for directors, some of whom consider its violence particularly relevant to our times.
In Adena Jacobs, Bell Shakespeare has found a director with the courage to mould the play to a new vision, one that explores the monstrous nature of the human body and the fearful power of parents over children. In 2018, for the Sydney Chamber Opera, Jacobs directed The Howling Girls, a libretto-free opera based on reports of the uncontrollable screaming of five women after the 9/11 crisis in the United States. Eugyeene Teh designed that opera and works again with Jacobs to create the projections, soundscape, and imagery for a confronting series of tableaux drawn from Shakespeare’s play. Jacobs has also directed productions of Oedipus Rex and The Bacchae and what she called ‘a theatrical poem’ version of Frank Wedekind’s Mine-Haha, or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls for her company Fraught Outfit. This version of Titus Andronicus might also be called a theatrical poem, probing the imagery of the play rather than its savage action, so that Shakespeare seems more like Euripides than a Renaissance writer.