I saw the production after it transferred to the Barbican, and deliberately didn't read up in advance, so although I was aware in advance that this is one of Shakespeare's bloodiest and most graphically violent works, I didn't know any details of the plot.
This is a modern dress production - as the audience comes into the auditorium, armed 'police' in stab-vests prowl along the front row of the stalls, looking menacingly at audience members, and occasionally asking them questions, so everyone can start out feeling a little uneasy..
Then, as the performance starts, there was a voice-over from a news-reader giving us a little background. The Emperor is dead, the succession is unclear, markets are volatile, and so on, before the play 'proper', as it were, begins.
Titus Andronicus (David Troughton) returns victorious and covered in glory, after defeating the Goths (and losing 21 of his 25 sons) in a war which has lasted for 10 years, bringing with him as prisoners Tamora (Nia Gwynne), Queen of the Goths, her 3 sons and her lover, Aaron (Played in the performance I saw by understudy Joseph Adelakun)
Despite Tamora's pleas, Titus orders the sacrifice of her eldest son, to honour his fallen sons. This is, as things pan out, a bit of an error...
Titus resists attempts to put him on the Imperial throne, and throws his support behind the previous Emperor's eldest son, Saturninus (Martin Hutson), in preference to his younger brother, Bassianus (Dharmesh Patel). Again, not, as things turn out, the best choice he ever makes, but it is, I presume, an indication of his integrity, that he does not seek to seize power as Emperor himself.
Things continue to go.. less than optimally. In quick succession, Saturninus agrees to marry Titus's daughter Lavinia, then changes his mind and marries Tamora instead, Titus falls out with his sons (killing one of them) as they assist Lavinia to elope with Bassianus, to whom she was betrothed before Titus offered her to the emperor, oh, and Tamora vows revenge on Titus for the death of her son.
Having now been made Empress, she is of course in a good position to pursue her revenge. Aided by her dastardly lover, Aaron, she engineers an appalling attack by her sons, who murder Bassianus and rape and mutilate Lavinia (cutting off both her hands and cutting out her tongue, so she cannot speak or write to tell anyone who is responsible) and frame 2 of Lavinia's brothers for the attacks.
Nor do things get any better. Murder, missing limbs, betrayal, feigned madness, adultery, and finally, that scene, where Titus kills Tamora's remaining sons, and serves them to her, baked into a pie.. after which his killing of his own daughter seems almost an anticlimax!
(Check out Good Tickle Brain's 'Death Clock' to check out all the deaths in order)
It is an interesting production, the violence is graphic and bloody, but (perhaps surprisingly, given the grim content, this production also has its humorous moments, even in some of the bloodier scenes. The arguments between Titus, his brother Marcus and son Lucius as to which of them should sacrifice a hand in a (doomed) effort to save the lives of Martius and Quintus, for instance, early scenes as Titus parades his sons / soldiers, and some lovely subtle visual byplay in the horrific closing scene, as Marcus (aware of Titus's culinary revenge) gently encourages his nephew Lucius to try the salad, rather than the pie which is on the menu...
Other parts were, to my mind, not quite so successful - Tamora and her sons, in the guise of 'Revenge' were rather overdoing the silly voices and deliberately bad acting, although the honours were fairly even, with Titus having to play a large part of the scene from inside a giant cardboard box! I did feel that he the actors were having to do their best with the rather odd directing decisions. There was a certain amount of ad-libbing, with Titus asking members of the audience for paper and pen in order to write to the Emperor, and Lucius giving Aaron's infant child to an audience member to hold at one point.
David Troughton gave a very strong, nuanced performance, but I think Hannah Morrish (Lavinia) was also excellent, particularly as she, of course, could have no speaking lines after the first couple of scenes. And Joseph Adelaken as Aaron was also very good - the character is pretty unsubtle, rejoicing in his own wickedness, and utterly unrepentant, but the performance was excellent, and particularly impressive as Joseph is the understudy and, presumably, stepped in at fairly short notice.
I'm glad to have seen the play, but I am not sure that I shall be rushing it see it again. I like my murderous Romans a little more subtle. This is one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, and it's not exactly subtle. And somehow, despite having missed lunch before the performance, I lost my appetite a little. No pies for me!