Coriolanus is one of the only Shakespeare plays that I didn’t study or hear about in school which is why when the Donmar Warehouse announced it as part of their season I wasn’t all that excited about it. Even after hearing about the cast. However as the opening came and went and the reviews and acclaim poured in, I knew this was one of those shows I shouldn’t miss and that if I did miss it I would regret it.
Then I had the chance to get tickets for the last ever week of the production and more specifically, the 70th performance. I jumped at the chance and since it was a matinee show headed out to Convent Garden in actual daylight. (For all the Londoners reading this you will also understand my joy when I say, it also wasn’t raining).
I have never been in the Donmar Warehouse before and it has to be one of the most wonderful, intimate theatres I have ever been in – no wonder everything they put on gets sold out so quickly. I had seats in the balcony and felt so close to the stage it was ridiculous; balcony seats usually relegate you to the top of the world.
In scope Coriolanus is massive – epic battle scenes, senate meetings, masses of people protesting, and Josie Rourke’s direction made use of the space in such an innovative way that you forgot how small the stage really is. The scope was achieved with chairs and a red square painted on the stage in the opening scene. I kid you not – it was that clever and that simple. The battle scenes were enhanced with said chairs, excellent lighting, a ladder and thumping music. At times there were crowd noises pumped onto the stage giving the illusion of masses and masses of people.
Tom Hiddleston plays Caius Martius Coriolanus, Deborah Findlay his mother Volumnia, and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen his wife Virgilia. Mark Gatiss was Menenius and Hadley Fraser as Tullus Aufidius. The cast was excellent and in my opinion it was only Sørensen’s Virgilia who seemed a little two-dimensional compared to everyone else. However there was one scene, when she tried to convince her husband to do something that I liked – very well played Virgilia. Findlay’s Volumnia was a tour de force, part proud mother hero worshipping her son and part exasperated parent trying to reason with her stubborn child. The relationship she had with her son provided some of the best comedy moments of the show.
Gatiss’ Menenius, funny, clever and eventually heartbroken was so charismatic it was hard to notice anyone else on the stage when he was speaking. Well almost everyone. When Hiddleston was on the stage it was very hard to not stare at him. He played Coriolanus perfectly, balancing humble war hero, with proud naivety perfectly. There was one scene where he was covered in blood which I won’t be able to forget for a long time. He had just come back from battle, wounded and in pain, and he peels his top off to have a shower on the stage. I expected this to just be the same as watching an attractive man getting all wet. But no, that scene was so terrifying it took my breath away. The blood pooling by his feet, him shaking himself like a dog and drops of bloody water flying all over the stage (and on some patrons) and screaming in pain as his wound make contact with water – all of it was brilliantly done.
This is not to say that there weren’t faults with the production. I didn’t particularly like Virgilia as I mentioned already and I did find the first half a tad too long. However this is only in comparison to the second half which I found too short. It is obvious that cuts were made to Shakespeare’s original text – the whole play including interval is well under three hours. These faults were minor in comparison to the sheer joy I had watching Coriolanus in the Donmar Warehouse.
The whooping and hollering I did in the standing ovation only partly expresses how I felt about the play. I went to sleep thinking about it and I woke up thinking about it. I expect this to be the case for a good while yet.
All images from the National Theatre website