Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse
Josie Rourke’s Coriolanus is nothing short of extraordinary. Intimately set, with ladders, graffiti and simple chairs gracing the stage, this is urgent and raw – the opening scene blistering with the power of Rochenda Sandall’s voice as the First Citizen. What is sparse in staging is more than made up for by the cast, who give career-defining performances. Dialogue is aggressive, sensual, rousing and dramatic all at once. The actors always remaining onstage keep it immediate, and the violence of the battle scenes throughout is surprisingly realistic, sinister and disturbing.
All is not well in Rome – evidenced by flashing lights, painted slogans of discontent and bursts of techo music – and the stubborn, precocious, seething Coriolanus is not the one to pacify the people. Tom Hiddleston is a giant onstage; he was made for Shakespeare. His truly outstanding performance is complex, haunting, devastating and brutal. Hiddleston’s ability to play both warrior extraordinaire with an iron will and mummy’s boy to the point of exasperation is gripping and desperately real. His scathing, sarcastic put-down of Brutus (a smug Elliot Levey) and Sicinia (the cleverly cast Helen Schlesinger) in the counsel chamber draws nervous laughter from the audience. His portrayal of this tragic, awkward hero is persuasive and thrilling.
Staging and effects are second-to-none – both the washing scene and the final act (not to be given away here) are shocking but breathtaking feats. The tiny venue does nothing to mar the epic feel of this tragedy, which is edgy and coarse, the music and costumes perfectly pitched. There is a striking short performance from Albert Enoch as Titus Lartius – one to watch – and Mark Gatniss is fantastic as gentle Menenius. Movement is entirely integral to this play, the actors’ dynamism extending the intricacy to the characters’ bodies.
Deborah Findlay as Coriolanus’ neurotic mother is superb – a real emotional tour de force, displaying the complicated relationship between the man and his mother with all its twists and turns, especially in her final scene persuading her arrogant son not to wreak vengeance on the Rome that banished him.
Actresses cast in a traditionally male-dominated play give it the emotional complexity and strength of character it deserves. The suggested homoeroticism between Coriolanus and a sincere Hadley Fraser as Aufidius is sensitively and intelligently handled. Intense exchanges between small groups of characters make for a keyhole into the incredible breadth of Shakespearian language and the story it truly tells. This retelling strips the play back to its core, revealing humanity at every turn, which is the cornerstone of this production.
This is breath-stoppingly exciting theatre; there’s a brevity, depth and heaviness to this Coriolanus that’s hard to shake off. Hiddleston owns this script and absolutely shines out in what is a remarkably genius production – “His heart’s his mouth” couldn’t be more appropriate.
The National Theatre Live broadcast is on 30th January 2014 in cinemas across the country. There is no question – you must see it. Provocative, invigorating and enigmatic, it’s hard to imagine Shakespeare any better than this.
Coriolanus is at the Donmar Warehouse until 8th February 2014. For further information or to book Barclays Front Row tickets visit the theatre’s website here.