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Coriolanus @ Donmar Warehouse

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.


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Review: Private Lives @ Gielgud Theatre

Private Lives follows the turbulent and confused relationship between Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne over the course of a few days. As can be expected of Noël Coward, there are plenty of ups, downs, laughs, hysterics and sheer oddities during the play, which keep the audience entertained throughout. Having seen a slightly lacking Hay Fever last year, I was really hoping that this production would give the play the pace and energy required by Coward’s brilliant writing. I can safely say that Private Lives did not disappoint at all.


In terms of the actual play, although there is very little plot the roller coaster of Elyot and Amanda’s respective and mutual relationships provided enough entertainment and social observation that it didn’t really matter! Coward uses the play to comment on the paradox that he saw in the high society of the 1920s. Amanda and Elyot are fantastically decadent, uncaring and ‘utterly modern’, which, as Philip Hoare points out in the programme, acted as an antithesis to the economic problems of the time. This is all obvious in the characters’ rejection of seriousness, and the sumptuousness of the set, which was a beautifully crafted revolving scene that alternated between a hotel balcony and Amanda’s Parisian apartment – decorated richly to the height of Art Deco fashion. While Private Lives probably isn’t the most thrilling in terms of plot, it certainly gives us a window into the lives of the young and rich of the 1920s, as well as plenty of moments of sheer entertainment.

This production, directed by Jonathan Kent, made use of the exquisite talents of Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor (yes, I saw Duckface in the flesh, it was too exciting and nostalgic!) Both principal actors were excellent, getting equal laughs from the audience thanks to their impeccable one-liner delivery and physical ability. Stephens was playing Elyot in a way that very much reminded me of a typical Hugh Grant character, only if Hugh Grant could actually act, and so achieved a hilarious mix of caddishness and flippancy. Chancellor was simply brilliant as the self-indulgent and confounding Amanda. My favourite moment of the entire play was her dancing to music from Rite of Spring as a way frustrate Elyot. It had me and my sister in tears of laughter, particularly because I knew that the random arm movements and jumping were all too in keeping with the proper choreography. All the actors (Anthony Calf playing Victor Prynne, Anna-Louise Plowman as Sibyl Chase, and Sue Kelvin as the French maid Louise) portrayed their fantastically typecast characters very convincingly and each clearly understood the tone and speed needed to bring Coward’s words to life.  The only criticism I would level at the actors in general was that they didn’t project quite as much as was needed. Although for the most part I could hear fine, there was an elderly couple behind us (at the back of the stalls) who could clearly not hear the actors adequately, as they kept turning to each other to ask what had been said. Also, perhaps as a testament to the actors, secondary jokes were often missed because of the audience’s laughter at the first.

Overall however, Private Lives was a triumph, with everything from the acting to the set, and of course not forgetting the genius of Noël Coward, combining to create a thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious evening. As my mother and I told a woman on the tube home, it most definitely deserved its 5 stars.

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