One of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays presented in a hair salon around Halloween? Excellent idea.

Fresh Dada presented their take on Titus Andronicus last week. . Titus (Julia Harris in the traditionally male lead role) has returned triumphantly from the war with prisoners. One of them, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, (Karen Anslow) pleads for the life of her daughter (traditionally a son) but is ignored and her daughter is slain. Hoping-to-be-Emperor, Saturninus (Neal Barber), originally wanting to marry Titus’ only daughter Lavinia (Catriona Tipene) but rejected by her, takes Tamora as his wife instead. Grief stricken, Tamora promises to avenge the slight against her new husband and at the same time revenge the death of her daughter. Vicious plotting and violence ensue. This whole play is a content warning. Spoiler: it doesn’t end well for anyone.

Anchored by strong performances from Julia Harris (Titus Andronicus), Alan Carabott (Marcus Andronicus), and Karen Anslow (Tamora) the story zips along at a good pace. The juxtaposition of beautiful chandeliers and the bloody story was striking. A minimalist set is complemented by elegant costuming (designer Sylvia Gilbert-Potts) – suits for the men, pencil skirts for (some of) the women. Director Joshua Hopton-Stewart obviously has clear ideas about each of the factions. This is particularly strong with Tamora’s two sons (James Costello Ladanyi and Josh McDonald) in the creepy scene before they rape and disfigure Lavinia (Catriona Tipene). It didn’t feel quite as coherent in his vision for the Goth army who were now following Titus’ son Lucius (Gary Miller). Complicated story? Very much so, but easily understood thanks to the costuming and aforementioned directorial vision.

Looking forward to what Fresh Dada presents next.