Tag Archives: Shakespeare

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: Macbeth @ Trafalgar Studios


Having never studied, seen or even read Macbeth, I had no idea what to expect from the inaugural performance at the Trafalgar Studios. The performance, directed by Jamie Lloyd and starring James McAvoy and Claire Foy, was surprising, captivating and powerful on all levels.

Set in a modern, dystopian Scotland, Lloyd’s Macbeth presented the psychology of Shakespeare’s text as it applies to contemporary events and social conscience. Bare metal, fluorescent lights and ragged clothing replaced the traditional Elizabethan garb, creating a much more dark and raw atmosphere. In addition to this the audience was literally brought closer to the action, with a third of the seats put on the opposite side to the main seating area, effectively on the stage. I was lucky enough to be seated in the front row of the onstage seating, and this really did make me feel more involved in the performance. The actors also helped this feeling through careful inclusion of both sides of the audience, as well as more direct monologuing to choice audience members (James McAvoy held my gaze for a good 30 seconds of monologue!) The space was well used, with ladders, tables and chairs providing ample opportunity for different levels in an otherwise very flat set. The lighting added to this, with blackouts, side spotlights and hand held lamps creating another dimension to the already dramatic set, which provided the perfect background for the modern interpretation of the Scottish play.

The drama was extremely well directed, and there was a great sense that all the actors very much understood the meaning behind the words – even if sometimes this was not overly clear to the audience; the strength of the scottish accents made some of the dialogue hard to follow. However, overall the acting was of an incredibly high standard with a wealth of stand out performances. Jamie Ballard portrayed Macduff’s grief on hearing of his wife and children’s death with a heart-wrenching truthfulness, and was deeply moving as Macbeth’s crazed adversary in the final battle scenes. Claire Foy made a beautiful yet damaged Lady Macbeth. She portrayed the character’s duplicity with a great skill, and in particular Foy’s interpretation of Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking was disturbed and almost primal. Her gut-wrenching scream was one of the most terrible sounds I have heard, and it visibly moved the audience. Finally, James McAvoy’s Macbeth was a hugely powerful, considered and physical character. It was clear that McAvoy fully understood the psyche of his character, and he seemed to fit perfectly into the modern war-torn setting created by Lloyd. I think the best testament I can give to his acting skill is that, when approaching our seats during a monologue, McAvoy’s roar of anger sent my mum shooting a foot into the air (much to our embarrassment, and the audience’s amusement!) What struck me most about all of the performances was their physicality – the actors were constantly sliding, climbing, fighting and running across the stage, which added to the savagery of the play. It was also impossible to ignore the gore of this interpretation of Macbeth. McAvoy and Foy’s arms covered in blood up to the elbows, the ghost of Banquo’s face drenched in blood, a shower of blood over Macbeth as he is killed, Macduff’s presentation of Macbeth’s severed head dripping with blood… It was really quite a lot, but I have to say it never felt gratuitous. Savage and terrifying yes, but not just for the sake of it. The gory aspect of the play was justified by the tragic nature of the text, and I think along with that Lloyd’s contextualisation of the play in the near future allowed for the more visual aspects of the play to be brought out, than perhaps in a more traditional interpretation.


(The stage at the interval)

Overall I think Macbeth was a truly thrilling and visceral play, and although it is unfortunately sold out, I would really recommend seeing a play at the Trafalgar Studios. Jamie Lloyd is currently directing a series of plays in his ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ project, and it would be very interesting to see his direction of other plays as I think it is primarily his choice of set, concept and direction that made Macbeth stand out from other Shakespeare productions (as well as James McAvoy’s lovely face, of course.)

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