Thursday, 9 November 2017

Review Coriolanus

by William Shakespeare

The Hero Lies In You

In ancient times, before her trusty steed joined her in theatre adventures, TLT was a mighty literary warrior, in  hand to page combat with the classics including Coriolanus.

Yep, in other words, she took Coriolanus for English 'A' Level, a play written by the Bard during the reign of James 1 of England and VI of Scotland round about the time of food shortages and corn riots in the early 17th century.

She also saw the late, lamented Alan Howard in the role from the vertiginous "Gods" at the Aldwych Theatre, then the London outpost of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Now, roll on the years, it's Coriolanus and the Royal Shakespeare Company in a version which curiously manages to combine excitement and blandness all in one production.

Coriolanus is a hero while he is away at war defending the Roman city state, a fighting machine who overcomes allcomers including the attacking armies of Rome's arch enemy, Tullus Aufidius and the Volscian military.

Coriolanus only knows how to speak the language of war and has only ever focussed on channelling resources towards war.

He is urged on by a mother who, in this production, is more politically astute than simply wanting a military hero in the family.

Her son, though, has never had to think outside his own military and domestic sphere, let alone negotiate the politics of central and local government and the distribution of civilian resources.   

Angus Jackson directs Shakespeare's tragedy and civic rumination on a geometric stage with a set of classical simplicity by Robert Innes Hopkins using its depth to good effect. 

The martial and male political forums are placed at a layered distance from a  white marble statue of a magnificent horse laid low by an imperial lion.

The interior female domestic sphere is symbolized by a Venus De Milo, another marble white statue but of a beauteous woman with her arms broken off.

It is a geometric play with Coriolanus at first a part of the geometry of Rome (ok, ok, TLT knows geometry is a Greek invention, but you known what she means!).

But then he becomes a destructive force as he leaves it, in banishment and then revenge, to join the Volscians, laying waste the ritualistic balance of power between the two armies.  

In Shakespeare, especially in a play such as Coriolanus, it is always interesting to see how the writing with its use of formal rhetorical devices still chimes with a modern view of "character".

Sope Dirisu's Coriolanus stands like a tree trunk, which ultimately breaks rather than bends. This visual image remains in the mind but is not matched by his rather unsupple verbal, if clear, delivery.

He and the people around him seem to be in a nebulous, hierarchical, corporate space.

The refined violin and cello strings and short bursts of a live operatic voice create a  feel of the City's elite in tuxedos and bow ties ruling the roost like corporate sponsors refusing to countenance the plebeian pleas for grain.

In this it almost treads on the ground of the National Theatre's 2012 Timon Of Athens but does not go all the way, remaining a kind of no-man's land on clean brown wood floors.

This lack of specificity, despite some design striking touches, combined with the modern dress does not work in the end in its favour. It gives it, especially with the aural strings and trills, a certain blandness.

Hayden Gwynne is a strong Volumnia, the mother of the warrior, who in her interpretation is not so much obsessed with making her son a martial hero as making sure he builds a secure domestic and political family for himself.

After the popular politicians have taken Coriolanus, a vital cog, out of the Roman machine, the scene where  mother, wife and young son plead to save the city is heartrending.

Otherwise, James Corrigan's Aufidius makes an impact, particularly in the ultimate scenes where the final, messy scramble ends in tragedy.

Paul Jesson's Menenius, the wily, good-living patrician, has a clarity and manages to hold the audience with his manoeuvring and arguments.

The Tribunes, the formal political representatives of the people, are nicely characterised by Jackie Morrison and Martina Laird.

However the arguments they put for the fickle populace and the responses of the arrogant elite come through less successfully on the large Barbican stage. 

Charles Aitken is engaging as Cominius, Coriolanus's political colleague and Hannah Morrish is a fetching contrast to Coriolanus's mother as the more delicate wife Virginia. The fighting is well-staged by movement director Lucy Cullingford.

The production is exciting at times and a little plodding at others, especially in the first act.  It's a pleasure to see Coriolanus again but, although there are moments of power, it did feel occasionally rather diluted. It's an upper range amber light.  

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