of don mar warehouse
493 BC. Roman Leader, Caius Martius (Tom Hiddleston) leads a battle against the Volscians and sworn enemy, Audifidius (Hadley Fraser) and is victorious. When he returns home he is named Coriolanus, and with badgering from his mother, Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) is made a Roman consul. Tribunes of the people believe Coriolanus will abuse his power and move for him to be put to death. Coriolanus is instead banished, and seeks fellowship with Audifidus to destroy Rome. Volumnia begs Coriolanus to spare Rome, her words move him and he does. Aufidius feels betrayed and murders Coriolanus.
Director Josie Rourke uses the very small space of the Donmar Warehouse to its fullest by utilizing minimal set décor and props. The back wall of the playhouse is painted red, a throwback to Roman culture, and has graffiti written and projected upon it. Aluminum chairs serve multiple functions throughout, forcing the audience to imagine battle trenches and horses.
The production uses a lot of blood and gore. At one point Coriolanus goes off stage and returns covered in blood. The image of Coriolanus blood soaked is disturbing and elicits a visceral response. The tactile feeling of the play is enhanced when Coriolanus strips away his bloodied shirt, exposing his many scars, and takes a shower on stage.
courtesy of don mar warehouse
From the moment the play begins the ensemble draws the audience into the drama while also making clear the plight of the people. Once in battle, the ensemble citizens become the ensemble soldiers. The way the ensemble transitions from scene to scene and function to function is so seamless that the audience forgets it’s the same actors.
The play deals with manipulation and two of the master manipulators are Sicinia and Brutus (Helen Schlesinger and Elliot Levey). The way they twist the views of the people is so subtle that the people don’t even realize they’re being used for ulterior motives. The quick banter is so well rehearsed it feels like they’ve been co-conspiring for years.
Cominius and Menenius serve as great friends and support for Coriolanus. Cominius is a warrior and admires Coriolanus’s strength. When Coriolanus turns Cominius away, it’s a powerful moment, because of De Jersey’s performance. Menenius provides much needed comedic relief, Gatiss’s comedic timing is spot onLike Cominius, Menenius is shunned; however, Menenius is given a letter by Coriolanus. As Menenius reads the letter, the resounding disappointment and sadness of the moment is perfectly expressed on Gatiss’s face.
The feminine portrayal in Coriolanus
has two extremes: the overbearing, almost non-nurturing female embodied in Volumnia, and the passive female embodied in Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen). Virgilia appears weak, playing second fiddle to Volumnia even in her marriage with Coriolanus. In one scene Virgilia unleashes her inner passion as she screams at the Tribunes for banishing Coriolanus. The scene is a strong counterpoint to the rest of Sorensen’s performance, making the scene gripping. But, it’s Volumnia who steals the show. The complexity of her character is well thought out. Her need for power is so strong that she doesn’t consider how her actions will affect her son, whom she claims to love too much.
courtesy of Donmar Warehouse
Hadley Fraser is the perfectly cast, from dialect to physical appearance Aufidius is the complete opposite to Coriolanus. In the scenes where Aufidius talks of the war and Coriolanus his disdain and respect for his enemy is nuanced perfectly, providing a great depth to a character that could appear as just a soldier looking for revenge.
Tom Hiddleston is no stranger to Shakespeare, but Coriolanus is the most complicated Shakespearian character he’s portrayed. Caius Martius is the perfect warrior, but when thrust into a political realm he struggles. Balancing the soldier with his love of his family is something Hiddleston does exceptionally well. What is most surprising about Hiddleston’s performance is how well he plays the comedic moments, there are moments when his reactions and line deliveries are so funny that one cannot help but burst out laughing.
All interactions between Coriolanus and Aufidius are complicated and intense. At one point during their first fight, Coriolanus chokes Aufidius, who seems to enjoy it. Later, Coriolanus goes to Aufidius to offer his services. Aufidius’s retort to Coriolanus is laden with joy and sexuality, and kisses Coriolanus. The way Fraser plays the scene is very erotic, thus deepening the relationship between the two enemies.
courtesy of Donmar Warehouse
At the midpoint, the Tribunes call for Coriolanus to be put to death. Coriolanus has fought relentlessly for Rome, gone through a ritual he finds ridiculous to become consul, and the accusation he’s a traitor is infuriates him. Hiddleston delivers some of the best lines when he declares, “You common cry of curs! Whose breath I hate…as the dead carcasses of unburied men that do corrupt my air, I banish you; and here remain with your uncertainty!”
Everything comes together seamlessly in the final act of the play. Coriolanus is about to destroy Rome when Volumnia pleads with him. Findlay delivers the monologue with intense manipulative passion. Hiddleston’s reaction is heartbreaking; the painful anagnorisis Coriolanus has some of the best acting Hiddleston has ever done. In one singular moment he realizes he cannot destroy, he knows Aufidius will murder him, and this is the last time he’ll see his family. Hiddleston cries in this moment and it is extraordinary, and one of the best in the play.
Coriolanus brings peace, and as he anticipated, Aufidius kills him. The scene is culmination of all emotions throughout the play, and is the most visceral of all scenes. Coriolanus is hung upside down, and his throat slit. As Audifius delivers the last lines, Coriolanus’s blood pours on his face, and says, “Though in this city he hath widow’d and unchilded many a one, which to this hour bewail the injury, yet he shall have a noble memory.”
National Theatre Live is re-airing Coriolanus
throughout the following months. Go to NTLive.com
for show times.
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