by Jan Sobrie
Translated by Oliver Emanuel
Directed by Lu Kemp
Brian Friel Theatre
A suicide attempt, especially when the would-be jumper is only ten years old, is no laughing matter. There is, however, an element of off-the-wall comedy in Titus – directed by Lu Kemp and translated by Oliver Emanuel. This beautifully structured, evocatively phrased monologue binds you to the character and makes you see the world through his eyes. Titus tells big lies and small truths, he believes in talking pigs and doesn’t believe that a day lasts twenty four hours. Originally written by award winning Belgian writer Jan Sobrie, Titus is considered one of Europe’s most successful plays for young people. Small wonder.
Titus (Joseph Arkley) clambers through the Brian Friel Theatre audience as if from nowhere. After showing his backside to most of the audiences faces, we are introduced to the stripey-jumpered, cheeky faced, skinny boy wearing red baseball boots. This chatty, cheeky and a little bit odd ten year old is a boy standing on his school roof confronted by a situation that seems hopeless. As Arkley leaps onto the small desk the laughter evaporates as the realisation dawns that this boy is considering jumping.
Arkley delivers the rich language of Oliver Emanuel’s translation in a riveting monologue that relates the life of this lonely boy, a vegetarian son of a butcher, who can hear pigs’ and crows’ conversations and who writes his wishes on walls. This manic, impish, dreamer is both funny and absorbing as he deals with death, loss, first loves, breakups and the daily struggle to cope with his life. He expresses this brilliantly without leaving the desk through the fifty minute production.
The steady directorial hand of Lu Kemp creates a perfect mix of humour, fantasy and reality that hits the right note between laughter and sadness. Titus’ rigmarole of memories, anecdotes, fantasies and tall-ish tales are uproariously funny and there are a few jokes for the adults too: (his doctor Richard Head who insisted on being called ‘Dick’). Moreover, the quality and rhythm of Sobrie’s writing, and the sheer contained skill and eloquence of Joseph Arkley’s performance, is so intense that Titus emerges as a completely compelling piece of theatre; which takes its audience on a journey of affirmation, embracing the possibility of impossibilities and rejecting the adage that ‘dying young is the secret of not growing up’. During the 45 minute achingly, affecting monologue we gradually come to understand the extent of the loss Titus has suffered, and the reasons why he feels so abandoned.