A Five Star Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse:
Guest Review by Natalie York:
As the first show at the Donmar by new artistic director Josie Rourke I was excited and just a little bit nervous to see how Coriolanus would turn out. It has never been one of my favourites as a play, always seeming a little dry and overlong but this new production, staged with energy and intelligence, changed my mind completely. Confined to the relatively compact Donmar’s stage Rourke uses this lack of space to her advantage, focusing away from the rowdy scenes of warfare and rioting and instead presenting a chamber piece about the brutality of peacetime where the small scale conflicts of family and politics can be as destructive as any battlefield. The fighting is still in there of course but this works best when it is at its most stylized, particularly in one moment when we see Coriolanus alone climbing a ladder above his cowering comrades as pyrotechnics fall from the roof, it is here rather than in the moments of actual staged fighting that we really get a sense of his absolute domination as a soldier.
Tom Hiddleston gives a stunning performance as Coriolanus, so confident that the uncompromising code of warfare must apply in all areas of life he becomes almost childlike in his haughty and sarcastic approach to politics, sneering at the plebs he is attempting to win over and haranguing the senate. Hiddleston shows us a man hopelessly stunted by his inability to empathize with others yet still unable to truly live up to the expectations and demands of the mother who created him. Volumnia, as played by Deborah Findley becomes ultimately the most tragic figure of the play. Findley treads the line between her sense of dependence and sense of ownership over her son nimbly and she is at her most fascinating when we see the emotional wreck that exists just under the surface of this steely Roman matriarch. The scene where she sees her son banished from the city plays particularly well as Rourke interprets Volumnia’s relative silence in the text as evidence of extreme and obvious distress, and Hiddleston’s Coriolanus who learned his own stunted emotional intelligence from his mother, can neither help nor understand.
Whilst the show undoubtedly belongs to Hiddleston and Findley Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger also stand out as the people’s tribunes growing increasingly drunk on their newfound power. The choice to cast Schlesinger in a traditionally male role adds another layer to the tribune’s relationship, as the political allies become lovers and egg each other on to greater recklessness we get a strong sense of things spiraling beyond their control.
Mark Gatiss is another highlight as Menenius, although he seems a little young to play Hiddleston’s father-figure. He, like Volumnia, expects things his protégé simply cannot give and, whilst at first maintaining at least a façade of good humour, the moments when Gatiss shows this begin to crack are some of the most powerful in the production until by the end we see him quietly crumble under the weight of other people’s stupidity and unkindness.
Overall this production bodes very well for Josie Rourke’s continued tenure at the Donmar. Full of nuance and innovation but never over-complicated the text felt invigorated by this small-scale approach. I think most of the tickets are sold out by now (thanks in part to Tom Hiddleston’s legion of fans) but they are well worth a few hours in the returns queue if you can manage it.
Or, sign up for email alerts from Barclays Front Row productions at the Donmar Warehouse. A new batch of tickets are released at 10am every Monday until the show finishes on 8th Feb 2014.
41 Earlham Street,
London, WC2H 9LX, UK