Shakespeare play causes scores to faint (graphic content)

Last updated 17:42 24/07/2014

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES. Shakespeare's Globe promotional clip of their stage production of Titus Andronicus that the playhouse calls "grotesquely violent and daringly experimental."

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It's known as William Shakespeare's most violent play, but even that wasn't warning enough for theatregoers at London's Globe Theatre, 100 of whom fainted or walked out, overcome by the gore during the latest run of Titus Andronicus. 

The 51-show season certainly lived up to Shakespeare's references to "a crimson river of warm blood" and character Lavinia's "three issuing spouts".

In Act II, Lavinia enters having been raped, with her tongue cut out and her hands cut off.

From the trailer for Lucy Bailey's gore-filled Titus Andronicus.

From the trailer for Lucy Bailey's gore-filled Titus Andronicus. Photo: Supplied

"Mute, mutilated and slick with blood she totters about, quaking," Sarah Hemming wrote in London's Financial Times. "Her piteous state reminds us that sexual violence has long been, and remains, a weapon of war."

Even The Independent's theatre reviewer, Holly Williams, confessed to fainting.

"I'm not alone," Williams wrote.

"Audiences are dropping like flies at this revival of Lucy Bailey's infamously gory 2006 staging.

"So I can't vouch for Act III, scene ii - but if it's anything like the rest of this vivaciously staged, blackly comic and dizzyingly unrestrained production, it was probably exceptional."

The London Telegraph critic Charles Spencer left the theatre "both harrowed to the marrow and disconcertingly elated". 

Lucy Bailey, the show's director, told The Independent that she enjoyed the physical effect the work had on audiences.

"I used to get disappointed if only three people passed out," Bailey said.

The show ran from April 24 until July 13.

Sydney audiences may have to brace for a similar reaction when Hugo Weaving takes on Macbeth at the Sydney Theatre Company.

Set and costume designer Alice Babidge has warned those in the front rows will risk being covered in fluids and flying limbs.

Babidge told Fairfax Media that, while there would be a lot of killing, "I feel like we've been incredibly, incredibly plain in our use of blood." 

Emma Valente of Melbourne theatre company The Rabble has had many people walk out on her shows; up to 20 left on the opening night of The Story of O, unnerved by the violence and sexual abuse. 

Valente said while she wanted audiences to rethink their assumptions she did not want them to feel trapped in uncomfortable situations. 

"We are often aiming for a visceral reaction from people but I feel that fainting is quite an extreme reaction," she said. 

"It would not be something we are hoping for."

Valente strongly supports foyer warnings, which are optional and opposed by many in the Australian theatre scene.

Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography writer Declan Greene told Fairfax Media in May that foyer warnings could work against a work by highlighting its most extreme elements.

"It can make a performance seem wilfully 'obscene'," he said.

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"It contextualises the performance as a litany of transgressions, obscuring the actual intention of the piece."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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