The play is the thing and the location is the play. As you enter the disused car park at the side of the Peckham cinema multiplex (past the dumpsters, down the alley, through a narrow metal door), you are greeted with posters (“Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind immersive experience!”) and signs guiding you to levels seven and eight. Titus Andronicus produced by The Theory of Everything and Restless Buddha makes a firm promise, with the writing – literally – on the wall. Does it deliver? It does when it counts and in its own terms.
Sprawled in the car parking space of level seven, the production – directed by Pia Furtado – is notable for its energy, atmosphere and the marriage of setting and text. Its world – turf wars with a touch of sixties car culture – is immediately recognisable as a place where human life has little value. In that context, the text sits comfortably but not passively. It hurls and jumps as much as the actors do. Words are lithe and the production’s physicality has its own brutal poetry: men crawl and hang from the ceiling, bodies disappear through metal doors, threat drips everywhere. Blinding car lights flood the long strip of concrete and suddenly it’s car races at the edge of a cliff.
If the production is thrilling in its big physical moments (you would be hard pressed to find a more exhilarating fight than the final one), the smaller ones also make their mark: Titus collapses in Lavinia’s arms; Tamora gives Titus the finger (as you would) while Saturninus isn’t looking; Lavinia crawls on the ground to kiss the decapitated heads of her brothers bundled in plastic shopping bags; Marcus coaxes Lavinia like if a wounded animal; bodies are stacked in shelves and covered in cellophane and a green sickly light.
The cast attacks and embraces the text in equal measures: Adam Burton as Titus has a macho kind of vulnerability tinged with obstinance. I was particularly taken with Phil Yarrow’s Marcus, whose tenderness singlehandedly washes off all the blood of the play. Sonya Cullingford charged on Lavinia’s desperation with fearless abandonment. I was less impressed with Richard Pyros’ Saturninus as he panted and overexerted but with little subtlety and Holly Augustine’s Lucia who felt more stringent than assertive (although I applaud the cross gender casting).
And the memories of the evening? The charging of bodies, the scrapping of boots on concrete, the drip drip drip of threat, the nippy air high in a building overlooking the city.