Coriolanus was amazing.
After hearing so many good reviews and travelling all the way down to London for the show, my expectations were pretty high. Investing so much into seeing the show was definitely setting myself up for disappointment… but I wasn’t let down in the slightest.
The acting, of course, was phenomenal. Tom Hiddleston more than fulfilled expectations, making Coriolanus into a truly relatable character, both despicably proud and undeniably human. How he manages to stay adorable while covered in blood I’ll never know…
|Mark Gatiss as Menenius|
(apologies for the green glare- this is
a photo of a photo)
The supporting cast was certainly worthy. Mark Gatiss shone as Menenius, distancing himself from the role of Mycroft while still keeping the sly charm and just a hint of sass. I also recognized Peter De Jersey (Horiatio in the David Tennant Hamlet, also in Broadchurch and Doctor Who) and Elliot Levey (an absolutely miserable Don John in the David Tennant and Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing). The casting of one of the tribunes as female (Helen Schlesinger) took a little while to win me over, but by the end I was attached to all the cast.
The diversity of the cast gave the production an edgy, modern feel. With a cast of just fourteen, five were women (with two of these women playing multiple roles) and five were black (including two of the women.) Some reviewers felt that casting more women in a play that deals so heavily with gender (let’s just say that Coriolanus is a bit of a mama’s boy) obscured the issues the play addresses, but I thought that increasing the number of female characters made the questions of gender more relevant to a modern audience.
|The stage before the production|
Sound was used effectively throughout the performance. Although I think the performance wasn’t miked (I didn’t see any, and neither did my friends watching on National Theatre Live) I could hear every word, from the quietest soliloquies to the stirring battle speeches. Frequently the cast spoke in unison or recordings of crowds played, creating a sense of a much larger cast. Also, jarring music (almost a sort of symphonic heavy metal) played during the scene changes, contributing to the oppressive and edgy feel of the play.
|The stage at the conclusion of the production (side view)|
The set was deceptively simple, featuring a single ladder up to the ceiling, a back wall of brick, and around a dozen black chairs. However, the physicality of the play was fantastic—the chairs were slammed in time to music, thrown around, or arranged into barricades for the battle scene. Other objects, such as swords, were also tossed with astonishing precision. Heavy sticks hurtling across the stage, landing nearly a foot away from an audience member, certainly added to the intensity!
|The shower scene. :)|
The most remarkable aspect of the production, however, was how stuff was spilled on the stage. The play opens with Coriolanus’ young son painting a red square across the stage, creating almost a gladiatorial arena. In the first act, Coriolanus enters covered in blood, then proceeds to shower at center stage, screaming in agony as blood and water flow from his wounds and cover the stage. During Alfidius’ (Coriolanus’ nemesis) speech in the next scene, he spreads the blood across his face, and at the end of the play he allows blood dripping from Coriolanus’ death wound to fall on his head. Multiple times the stage is covered in falling rose petals or in torn up red ballots. As the lights dim, the stage is littered with various blood-red elements.
In short, I thought Coriolanus was brilliant acted, directed, and adapted. It was concise, visceral, edgy, and utterly enthralling. Despite having only two hours of sleep the previous night, I never came even remotely close to dozing off. Coriolanus was quite possibly the best performance I have ever seen, and, if they release the filmed version as a DVD I will certainly buy it so I can watch this show again and again. I may have come for Tom Hiddleston, but I left in awe of the entire production.