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Andronicus Synecdoche review – Shakespeare as gruesome gothic opera | Edinburgh festival 2023

If you are going to tell Shakespeare’s tale of tongue slashing and hand chopping, there is no point being mealy mouthed about it. Wrocław’s Song of the Goat company does not disoblige with their version of Titus Andronicus. Andronicus Synecdoche gives a gruesome story the full gothic opera treatment, all monochrome intensity, relentless rhythms and austere, militaristic choreography. Even at the curtain call, the large Polish company finds it hard to smile.

This is the company, set up by Anna Zubrzycki and Grzegorz Bral, that made its name on the Edinburgh fringe nearly 20 years ago with polyphonic pieces sung in an invented ur-language that was as haunting as it was fanciful. Shows such as Chronicles: A Lamentation had a mesmerising, religious intensity, the more so because of the physical commitment of the large ensemble.

If Andronicus Synecdoche does not have the same quality of mystery and wonder of those earlier pieces, it is no less a physically and vocally imposing piece of work. Directed by Bral, it strips back Titus Andronicus to a brutal collage of postwar violence, betrayal and revenge, as the warrior Titus returns to Rome with Tamora, the captive queen of the Goths, but does not appreciate her thirst to get her own back. The subsequent political deals and marriages only point to catastrophe.

Staged less as drama than libretto, narrated as much as acted, Alicja Bral’s English-language script is not always easy to keep up with as we figure out who is double-crossing whom, but there is no doubting the message that violence begets violence and war does not end the moment the treaties are signed. You only have to cross the Polish border to Ukraine to see the reality of the horror the production describes.

Maciej Rychły’s score for squeezebox, pipes, violin and drum is relentless in its rhythmic attack, while the large choir, led by Paweł Jan Frasz, sings a cappella, creating waves of close-harmony sound, at once beautiful and bleak. There is little emotional range, just mounting fury as the chorus goes from post-battle anger to distress at the rape of Lavinia, the blood on her white dress the only colour on stage.

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