[National Theatre at Home]
Famine. Siege. Riots. Enemies. Put it together and what have you got?

A Shakespearean tragedy. Lo, below.
(Johan Persson Photography throughout)


I found out about this production in April 2013, and had hoped to snag a ticket in time. In the era of the Avengers franchise and MCU’s domination at the cinema, unsurprisingly, any tickets that did exist quickly evaporated – that, and a three-figure ticket price is taking the piss. A live-screening it is. Back to 2014.

The basics

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. 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 delights in his war wounds, and plays mind games with him under the guise of ‘honour’.

In essence, Volumnia is a puppeteer. Yet here, Coriolanus rarely kowtowed to his mother. His reluctance and rebuttal instead painted Volumina as less manipulator, and more lamenter of what her son could have been if he just tried a little harder.

Likewise with Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), her direction also seemed at odds with the play. She, too, is under Volumnia’s spell, and yet here her prime purpose was to weep.

As for Coriolanus…

There are aspects of Hiddleston’s portrayal that I enjoyed: his grasp of the text is effortless, and the physicality he brings to the role is captivating. There’s also an air of reluctant teenager/man-child that can’t shake his mother’s clutches, literally and in terms of her expectations of him. And so for all his unpredictability and aggression, there is a naivety that still shines through, best highlighted when paired with Hadley Fraser‘s Aufidius (someone I’d love to see again in the title role).

And that’s the problem. 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 occasionally resembles a lively sitcom, where the tribunes, Senator and generals of Rome are more quirky members of The Big Bang Theory than dangerous.

And the shower scene was weird. I’m sorry, I have to mention it. We all know why it was there. Moving on.

Final thoughts

Josie Rourke created an impressive production for such a cosy space. Minimalist and well-used, this small square of stage was put through its paces. We are spoiled with Shakespeare performances in spacious proscenium arch venues or vast outdoor stages, so a change of scenery is incredibly welcome. And, once I again, I have to praise the evolution of stage combat into something believeable. The passion of the cast is undeniable, but for me, it was Hadley Fraser and the ensemble that stole the show.

But as we continue down this live-stream/screening route, we inevitably discover more of what we do and don’t like. Maybe it’ll never work for me, and I’m ok with that. Filming a production was always problematic, the main issue being the audience’s focus is no longer a choice. Close ups dictate what should be seen, undermining hundreds of years of stagecraft doing that work for you. I don’t think we’ll ever reach a point where filming a production comes close to replicating a live experience, but at almost 30 live streams in, you’d think someone would have said: stop doing close ups when there’s more than one person onstage.

https://laidigsbroadway.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/739a1-tomhiddleston.jpg‘Coriolanus’ at Donmar Warehouse

P.S. Where did Dean Thomas come from, and why were no spells cast? So many things could’ve been avoided!

14 thoughts on “‘Coriolanus’

    1. I actually found it by accident when looking for the production photos, hoping he’d be in at least one of them.

  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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