I have to start this review by saying that Coriolanus is not one of Shakespeare’s better plays. It is a political tragedy based in Rome, and the main character has a bit of an Oedipus complex – none of which screams entertainment at you when comparing it to say, Macbeth or Much Ado about Nothing. Nevertheless I was really very excited to see this performance, mainly (and unsurprisingly) because of the casting: Tom Hiddleston plays Coriolanus and Mark Gatiss is Menenius.
I was actually a little nervous when Hiddleston started his first monologue – he was gesturing exactly to match what he was saying, which looks very amateur and a little wooden. However I think he relaxed a bit more as his character developed more, and overall I think he was a very convincing angry and slightly mad military leader and traitor. The director was also clearly aware of Hiddleston’s fan base, as we were blessed with the most gratuitous topless shower scene I have every witnessed, but I am definitely not complaining. I’m sure that’s what Shakespeare envisaged anyway.
Mark Gatiss was wonderful from start to finish, expressing fear, regret, pride and power with subtlety and conviction. Similarly, Deborah Findlay who played Coriolanus’ over-affectionate mother Volumnia, created a very believable character who I think probably made most of the audience a little uncomfortable with her very involved relationship with her son. Unfortunately Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (from Borgen) who played Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia was not the best. Admittedly her character is not the most interesting, however I think she made the fatal combination of over the top hysteria while underplaying every other emotion to have a generally dissatisfied look for most of the play. The rest of the cast were generally very good, with the people’s tribune’s being particularly terrifying in their fight to have Coriolanus exiled, and the physicality of the soldiers being very impressive.
The set before the performance
The set and production were particularly good. The stage was empty but for a single ladder rising up to the ceiling, and a line of chairs which the cast moved forwards and back as needed. As in Macbeth the play seemed to be set in an ambiguous modern time, with the soldiers wearing leather breastplates with tight trousers (again, thank you to the costume designer for that one) with hiking boots, while the women wore a mixture of non-descript shift dresses and a tight lace number for Virgilia. What I found most interesting was their use of multimedia. Specific lines and words from the script were projected on the exposed brick back wall of the set, which also had Roman graffiti painted on it at the start of the play. On the floor various lines were also painted to indicate the walls of a rooms. One quite divisive production choice was the music, which was only used between scenes. It was very jarring electronic music, which I enjoyed because I thought it reflected the troubled times and events portrayed in the action, but my sister found it to be at odds with the seemingly timeless setting.
Overall, while I don’t think I would necessarily choose to see other interpretations of Coriolanus, I did enjoy this one because of its impressive cast and interesting production choices.