I recently came a cross an article describing how during a recent production of TItus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in England, a number of people in the audience fainted because the depiction of violence was so realistic and visceral. A few friends shared the article with comments of, “This is so cool!”, “I could never imagine this happening on American stages”, and “This is how theatre should be done.” Apparently, the fainting is particularly a problem with those seated in Standing Room Only during the summer months, which is absolutely logical, but makes me question the motives of a show that is so prone to medical emergency. A spokeswoman for the Globe said, “Fainting isn’t exactly uncommon amongst Globe groundlings [those with £5 standing tickets] so our front-of-house staff are very well trained.”. It was sort of reminiscent of how during Charlie Chaplin’s iconic clock tower scene in Safety Last, many in the audience fainted out of worry for Chaplin because that type of special effect had never been used in the movies before.
I had a few concerns about such a visceral use of blood and gore on stage, but overall, I did think it was cool that the Globe was putting in so much energy into making this scene “pop” that it had this reaction. I was a bit worried for people who might have PTSD and others who have experienced trauma, because this could be a major trigger. My bigger concern, however, was the use of so much violence and blood involved in a rape scene, which feels like an exploitation of the real sexual violence that is a reality for so many people, which could be another huge trigger for some people.
I thought that the use of so much gore on stage was a call back to Mark Ravenhill (whose Over There I recently responded to) and Sarah Kane, and it makes sense that this would happen on a British stage. That being said, I think Ravenhill and Kane had a much more clear directionality to the use of violence in their play, and I hope that Titus Andronicus staged the violent scene with the same care and sensitivity to the issues it responds to in the play.