New adaptation of Titus Andronicus involves clowns and comedy

Colleen Murphy’s new play uses the French bouffon clown technique to explore absurdities of our world

(Photo courtesy of the Cultch)

By: Tessa Perkins

Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus gets a whole new treatment in Colleen Murphy’s new work produced by Rumble Theatre and developed with the assistance of Bard on the Beach. The Bard’s gory tragedy, which includes multiple deaths, sexual assault, severed heads and hands, a live burial, and cannibalism is not exactly a cheerful play. The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius, however, is a retelling that fuses it with contemporary dialogue and an element of humour with clowns performing in the French bouffon style.

     The Society for the Destitute is a group of five bouffoon-style clowns who wear lumpy, padded costumes and make it their mission to mock the absurdities of our world. They do and say as they wish, and through their mockery the clowns are able to present this story from a new perspective while sharing their true feelings about the state of the world. The clowns reflect the audience’s own feelings and their faults while making them both laugh and think deeply. The bouffon may be an entertainer, but clowning can also be very intelligent.  

     The clowns, outcast and poverty-stricken, decide that they will put on their own version of Titus Andronicus and their version will shed new light on this much-maligned Shakespearean classic. This is a much-anticipated world premiere from Murphy, who is a two-time Governor General’s Award winner for her playwriting (Pig Girl and The December Man). Stephen Drover directs a talented cast of bouffons: Sarah Afful, Peter Anderson, Craig Erickson, Pippa Mackie, and Naomi Wright.

     Full of political satire, physical theatre, and chaos, the clowns are able to present the play in a way that highlights the timely themes of war, rage, and grief with our current political climate in mind. They also question the fine line that is sometimes drawn between what is beautiful and what is repulsive.

     The bouffons might forget a line or two, they might make audiences uncomfortable, and they might not stay dead after they’ve been killed off, but their Titus adaptation is sure to get audiences thinking while entertaining them with a unique form of clowning we don’t often get to see. We may not know whether to take them seriously or not, but that’s irrelevant as long as they entertain and leave audiences with some food for thought.  

The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius will be presented by Rumble Theatre and the Cultch from November 22–December 3 at the Cultch’s Historic Theatre. For more information, visit thecultch.com.

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