Based on ‘Titus Andronicus’ by William Shakespeare
The play is set in the fictionalised early 19th century deep South of the Cohen Brothers and Tarantino. The costumes, music and accents are hyperbolic comic book grotesques designed to heighten the graphic nature of the violence of Shakespeare’s original account. Nothing here should be played for realism, it’s all about the grand guignol, and the stage should be awash with blood.
Ma Brompton’s ‘cats’
Chastity is at a fast moving river, washing clothes. Autumnal trees, scant leaves russet at the turn of season, surround her as she kneels by some rocks which she is using to pound the cloths. Beams of light sneak through the trunks.
Chastity sings as she works.
On one evening long ago as the sun was sinking low
My true lover went to sail up in the sea
It was in the month of June when the roses were in bloom
When he tucked me in his arms and said to me
You’re a flower that is blooming in the wildwood
A flower that is blooming there for me
Sweeter than the morning dew and I’ll soon return to you
You’re a flower that is blooming there for me
Then a letter came to me from the captain on the sea
That told me my darling was dead
Oh the shock and great surprise made the teardrops dim my eyes
When I thought about the last words that he said
Now he can’t return to me he got drowned in the sea
And has done passed over life’s weary way
When it’s in the month of June and the roses are in bloom
It seems that I can hear my lover say
Two men, Kai and Jepp, enter and stand watching her. Chastity has her back to them and continues in her work unaware of their presence. The men exchange a long look. Kai smiles widely and joins in the song. Chastity stops singing, and turns around, backing away from then even while she is still sitting on the ground. Her hand lands in the edge of the water.
Jepp: Don’t stop on our account;
To interrupt such a bird is not our wont.
Kai, I do believe you silenced the child.
Well, that’s what you get for bloomin in the wild.
Chastity gathers up the cloths and throws them into a basket. She stands. Kai and Jepp move towards her. She moved towards them, head bowed. She tries to push past her but Kai catches her arm so she can’t pull away. He is clearly hurting her.
Kai: Where you going little one?
Jepp and I were simply having fun.
Chastity: My Pa will be expecting me.
Kai: And who now would your father be?
Chastity: Colonel Alexander Titus, long time leader of the cause.
Jepp: Ah, the cause, the cause
A bunch o’ toothless cats with blunted claws
And that was how the South was lost
Kai: And for every loss, there’s a heavy cost.
Chastity: Let me go.
Jepp: Hell no.
There’s some cheques your father owes
To our mama
That we ain’t never had payment for
Chastity: You’re Ma Burton’s boys?
Jepp: Why yes indeed we are,
I see our reputations spread far.
So maybe we work out an account:
Services in kind
Chastity: I won’t. I’d rather die.
Kai: Brother, the little bird speaks her mind.
What think you? Makes me desire her more.
Kai sniffs her hair.
Kai: I love the hunt to catch a whore.
Chastity: No. Let me be.
Chastity wrenches her arms free. Dropping the washing basket, she makes a break for deeper into the woodland. Kai and Jepp catch her.
Kai: Little bird’s got spirit.
Here birdee, here, no need to fear it.
Now little birdee, there’s no place to hide.
Wilt you leave me so unsatisfied?
Chastity brings her boot down on Jepp’s foot then brings her knee up to Kai’s crotch. They let her go and she makes another break for freedom. Jepp and Kai toy with Chastity. They snatch and grab at her, whooping and hollering, throwing her around between them. Chastity fights and claws but the two me are too strong and she is outnumbered. Finally the get her to the ground. Jepp kneels on her legs, Kai on her arms, so she is pinned to the ground. Chastity tries frantically to shake them off, but no amount of struggling will shake them.
Jepp: Well, that gone got my gander up.
Who knew small bird’s has claws?
But before we take what we want from you,
We’ll make sure you sing no more.
Kai and Jepp both draw large hunting knives. With practiced ease, Kai cuts off her hand as Jepp cuts off her foot. Chastity screams. The men then take off the other hands and foot. Chastity sobs, getting too tired to fight.
Jepp: Brother, one more stroke will end her fight
Then she’s our through out this night.
Kai raises his knife and pinches Chastity’s cheeks to open her mouth. He leans forward and sticks his tongue in her mouth in a grotesque parody of a kiss. As he pulls away, Chastity spits at him. Kai and Jepp just laugh. Kai pinches Chastity’s nose. She holds her breathe as long as she can but eventually she gasps for air. Kai plunges in his knife and cuts out her tongue. He throws it at Jepp, who casually throws it into the river.
Chastity is now crying, as her blood flows around her. Jepp gets off her legs, turning so he straddles her. He pushes her skirt up her body. Kai stays where he is but begins to unfasten his belt.
Colonel Alexander Titus sits on his porch, reading. The sun has begun to set and he turns up the gas lamp next to him so he can continue reading. A shotgun leans on wall next to him.
There is a rustling. Titus jumps up, grabbing his gun and pointing towards the noise.
Titus: Who goes there, speak I pray?
The rustling continues.
Slowly, Chastity drags herself out of the undergrowth. She has wrapped the stumps of flesh on her limbs as best she can with her teeth, but they are already drenched with blood.
Titus: A dying animal? I’ll help it on it’s way.
Titus walks up to Chastity, pointing his shotgun at her head. Chastity looks up, holding up an arm in supplication. Titus stops. Drops the barrel of his gun.
Titus stands still for a moment, while Chastity drags herself further towards him. He strides back to the porch dropping the gun and grabbing the gas lamp. He runs back to her. He collapses on the ground next to Chastity. He gathers her in his arms. Blood soaks into his shirt.
Titus: My girl, my Chastity, my love,
Whose clipped the wings of such a dove?
Speak and tell me who I should
Hunt and kill in the darkening wood?
Chastity opens her mouth. Blood pours out. Titus pulls her even closer. He begins to rock her.
Titus: Don’t try to speak. It matters not.
I swear even as our bodies rot,
I will find the ones who defiled you so,
And my bloody vengeance they shall know.
Chastity sits back from her father. She uses her stumps to try to dry his tears. She leaves bloody trails on his face. Chastity pulls away from Titus and searches the ground for something. She sees what she is looking for. She reaches for it with her teeth. It’s a broad stick. She picks it up and uses her mouth to get it between her stumps. She kneels on the ground and begins to write. Titus lifts the gas lamp to see what she is writing it the dirt.
Titus: Ma Brompton’s boy, treacherous Kai
And vile Jepp say you.
Then I swear, as you are the apple of my eye
This is what we both shall do.
Tomorrow we go hunting for some meat
From which we make some vittals sweet
For Ma Brompton alone to eat.
As she takes mine from out my care,
I’ll cut her so she will never bear
The pain I’ll weave into my snare.
Chastity collapses, finally exhausted. Titus strokes her hair. Slowly, painfully, Chastity stops breathing. Titus closes her eyes and lays her out on the ground incredibly gently.
Titus: Good night sweet girl, may flight of angels sing you to your rest
And may all the devils of hell work at my behest.
Titus picks up lamp. He turns it off.
The river again. Morning light is bright and white.
Titus enters carrying his shotgun on his shoulder. He is still covered in Chastity’s blood. He kneels and loads the barrels. He strokes the gun gently.
He looks down, realises that he is kneeling in the pool of Chastity’s blood. He rests his palm on the ground. He breathes.
Footsteps and laughing can be heard in the distance. Titus hides behind a tree.
Kai and Jepp enter. They look around. Titus trains the barrel of his gun onto the men.
Kai: Dang, where’s our cunny wench gone?
I was hoping to enjoy her this morn.
Jepp: Surely, she’s dead or eaten by wild bears?
We don’t have to bury no body, so who cares.
Kai: But I wanted her thighs, those breast, that scent.
Jepp: Let’s back to ma’s and enjoy some other c*nt.
Titus shoots Jepp right between the eyes. His head all but explodes. Kai is covered with blood.
Kai: Oh my brother-
Titus shoots again. He gets it in the chest – there is a large exit wound. The blood spreads slowly across his shirt. He falls slowly forward.
Titus steps out from the tree and up to the bodies. He draws Jepp’s hunting knife.
Titus: I send regards to your damn’d mother.
Titus brings down the knife into Kai’s chest.
The reception room in Ma Brompton’s cat house. She is a massive woman, lavishly dressed in red brocade. She is reclining on a chez. Her ‘cats’, barely dressed waifs of women, most too young for the profession, sit around her languidly like drugged tigers.
There is a knock at the door. A girl walks in and whispers in Ma’s ear. Ma regards her.
Ma: Well this is a turn up for the books
Let’s see how the old devil looks.
The girl leaves. After a moment, Titus enters with a barrow covered with a cloth.
Ma: How now colonel come to pay what you owe?
Titus: My dear Ma Brompton is it so.
Titus bows. Ma holds out her hand. Titus with apparent civility kisses it.
Ma: My, what brings this new civility?
Titus: You have finally got the best of me.
Here’s your pound of flesh, paid in full.
Ma: Good heavens what’s a girl to do
At such gentlemanly generosity
Would you like a girl? Pick one on me.
The girls all stand up.
Titus: Nay. No more now i have paid the balance
Of an old debt that’s something violence
Instead, let us eat together,
As old enemies who shall be sundered never.
Ma: I have no food-
Titus: Then cast you eye
Over this. One glorious juicy giant game pie.
Titus whips off the cover to reveal a massive pie in the barrow. It’s beautifully brown and steams gently.
Ma stands and moves towards the pie. There is a greedy look in her eye.
Ma: She cats shoo. I want no girls remaining.
I’m do my own caller entertaining.
The cats all leave the room.
Titus seats ma back on the chez. He pulls out a plate and the hunting knife and cuts a huge slice of pie.
Ma shivers in anticipation.
Titus takes the plate to her. Kneeling next to her, he places some pie in her open mouth. She groans.
Ma: Alexander Titus, that is just too good
You’re wasted in that cabin out in the wood.
Ma lays back so Titus has to clamber over her bulk to continue feeding her. He too takes bites.
Ma: Oh pie divine.
I wish your recipe were mine.
Titus: Salt water pastry forms the crust
Formed of the tears from a body of dust.
The fat is rendered from skin
To keep all the flavour in.
Where are your sons?
Ma: I have seen them not.
Feed me while the pie is hot.
Titus pulls back. Ma grunt in frustration. She grabs the plate and continues to fill her face.
Ma: Titus this is the sweetest meat
That every Southern belle did eat.
What is the beast? Deer?
Guess again, another go.
Titus: Close. No, it is the beast you love the most.
Ma coughs on something tough. She spits a finger into her hand.
Titus: One part Jepp, another Kai,
The sweet meat was the apple of my eye
My darling child, my only flesh
No eat it down while the pie’s still fresh.
Ma: You tease-
Titus: Never, not about love or food.
To disrespect the dead is rude.
Ma: You mean I’ve eaten both my sons-
Titus: I hunted them down with in the morning sun.
They killed my girl. Took her virtue and life.
She’ll never now by no man’s wife.
Ma starts to wretch, trying to choke up the meat she has eaten. She continues choking. She fights for breathe.
Titus: Don’t fight the poison in the pastry
It’s strong and death will enter hastly
I too have eaten of the same.
We’ll die, and bring an end of pain.
Ma gasps her last and dies.
Titus: I will off into the wild
To die next to my darling child.
And may those who come after heed
Parents will pay for a child’s misdeed.