‘Coriolanus’, Skinny Jeans Required

Famine. Siege. Riots. Enemies. Put it together and what have you got? A Shakespearean tragedy. Lo, below.

Ooo, drama. 2014. Donmar Warehouse and National Theatre. Josie Rourke. Coriolanus. Johan Persson Photography.
2014. Deborah Findlay as ‘Volumnia’ in ‘Coriolanus’. Johan Persson Photography.

I had been banging on about this since April of last year, demanding a ticket to see it live by whatever means possible. Instead, it was another live-screening deal on January 30th because, let’s be honest, a ticket priced in the three-figures is taking the piss. Unless you are from/live in London, in which case it’s either a bargain or the norm. Ok, and they sold out pretty quickly, shut up.

I’ll flag this up now: something has changed within me as a spectator, and I don’t know what it is. The more shows I see, the more my attention is drawn to really random things that, while maybe framing the play, have no real significance to the overall experience. And I really do mean random. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Every director has their own interpretation, and Shakespeare just happens to be one of those examples that has been interpreted so many times, the original intention can be lost. Coriolanus is about the journey of Caius Martius, and his struggle between politician and war hero. However, it is also about Mothers. No, really, it is. Volumnia is what modern day would refer to as the ‘pushy parent’. She wants Caius to be the war hero, to bear the scars and, if opportunity presents itself, die a noble death on the battlefield. She wants him to play the part. But this particular Volumnia was more of a lamenter than a puppeteer, making her motivation a little empty.

2014. Mark Gatiss as ‘Meneius’ in ‘Coriolanus’. Johan Persson Photography.

I felt for Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Virgilia, otherwise known from Borgen). It seemed her prime purpose was to weep, despite her explosive first scene. Mark Gatiss (Menenius) looked like he’d stepped out of a Dickensian novel, and played his role as…Mark Gatiss. I do like him (admittedly from The League of Gentleman days) but a beautiful grasp of the English language doesn’t maketh the actor alone.

As for Hiddleston… Ok, I have a bit of a problem with Hiddleston. No, hear me out.

It is not a question of talent, but his face. To quote Fall Out Boy: you can make all the moves, you can aim all the spotlights. Get all the sighs and mo-hoans just right. However, I think Branagh cast him as Loki and not Thor for a similar reason: he has the expression and eyes of a lost puppy. Think of anything you have ever seen him in. Remember a scene where he is in danger, in trouble, there’s a bullet headed his way, anything. The man is in his mid-thirties, and yet there is a naivety that still shines through. If the play had been focussing on his naivety, which in turn would have required a more domineering presence of…well, everyone, then a different story would have been told. Instead, you have a play that resembles a lively sitcom, where the tribunes, Senator and generals of Rome are more quirky members of The Big Bang Theory than dangerous.


2014. Tom Hiddleston as ‘Caius Martius’ in ‘Coriolanus’. Johan Persson Photography.

And the shower scene was weird. It was very, very weird. You watch Hiddleston showering in his trousers, making slightly…I don’t want to say erotic (but I just did) noises that I presume was meant to be pain but a weird scenario calls for weird interpretations and that’s what I heard. One of the odder 2 minutes I’ve spent.

Hadley Fraser (Aufidius) is someone I want to see again. He was insatiable. Perhaps this is just a London thing, but I’m getting a little bored of the Northerners (invariably rough around the edges and commoners with high ambitions) versus the Southerners (the civilised and skilled). If Fraser does Coriolanus again, I hope to see him as the title role.

Set: minimalist (which I prefer) and well-used. Music: … It was a little techno crossed with gay bar for me, but again, tastes are subjective. Presumably they decided to dip into London’s Garage scene, but the art of scenography and tech is a skill you cannot afford to mess around with. You know when it’s off because you notice it. Similarly with the costume, if this play had to be about anything other than the plot, it would be about scarves. There were a lot of them. To be fair, it’s quite hard to modernise the Roman era via the Elizabethan period in 2014, so I can forgive that.

Still not entirely sure why Hiddleston was put into what looked like denim leggings, other than perhaps to emphasise the fact that he actually has quite a big bum… Never noticed that before. Can’t unsee it, either. And the camera angles didn’t help. Or the fighting choreography – lots of low lunges. I had planned on opening this entry with that observation, but I figured it might give off the wrong impression.

All in all, Josie Rourke created an impressive production for such a cosy space. We are spoiled with Shakespeare performances in spacious proscenium arch venues or vast outdoor stages, so a change of scenery is incredibly welcome. Once I again, I have to praise the evolution of stage combat – hallelujah for believable stage combat! The passion of the cast is undeniable, but for me, it was Hadley Fraser and the ensemble that stole the show.

‘Coriolanus’ at Donmar Warehouse

P.S. Where did Dean Thomas come from, and when did he start growing facial hair?


8 thoughts on “‘Coriolanus’, Skinny Jeans Required

  1. Amazing post. I didn’t get to see this and you capture the essence of a front row seat. The review is so vibrant and gutsy. A great read and the drama lives in your description.


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