This updated production (it is set now, or perhaps in a possible near future) as directed by Andrew Jackson emphasizes the politics and bloody battles. It is beautifully spoken and a play of contrasts: this is a production where patricians wear dinner jackets, the plebeians wear hoodies and the tribunes are as sleek as TV presenters. Political speeches are contrasted with whirling violent battle scenes .
Jackson’s version of CORIOLANUS opens with a forklift truck shifting bags of corn away from the ordinary denizens of Rome. It is staged with some thrilling lighting effects and some bloody battles and some blistering , tense wordy political scenes in the Forum.
Stark grey metallic grille shutters rise and fall throughout the whole play as scene dividers. They are coolly neutral and suggest a life completely different to that of Coriolanus’. To indicate Rome and the forum there is a statue of a rearing horse, Volumnia’s palace is graced by a refined statue of Venus. The public marketplace is indicated by steel seating and podiums that rise from the floor. Interior scenes have curtains to soften the lines.
To summarize the complicated plot : Caius Martius forces open the gates of the city and joins the leader of the Roman army, Cominius, to defeat Tullus Aufidius, commander of the Volscian army. In recognition of his great deeds, Caius Martius is renamed “Coriolanus” . Yet the common people turn against him for his arrogant attitude, and he ends up seeking refuge in exile with his old foe Tullus Aufidius, who was previously defeated, but not killed.Together they plan to attack Rome, but at the last minute Volumnia makes Coriolanus repent his treachery, and a peace treaty is speedily worked out between Rome and the Volscians. Tullus Aufidius kills Coriolanus for his duplicity.
Sope Dirisu as Coriolanus is distinctly ‘other’ from the outset.He is portrayed as a valiant ,worthy warrior General of the army leading to many victories , but proud and arrogant , unsympathetic as well as being a real Mummy’s Boy .He regards himself as above the common people , who he despises and is awkward when running for office ( uncomfortably wearing the cloak of humility and white cap) as consul or indeed with any dealings with ordinary men and women.
Volumnia , Coriolanus’ mother is played very strongly by Haydn Gwynne . Tough and manipulative , fiercely intelligent she is elegant , proud and aristocratic, and advises her son carefully as she cannot rule in her own right .The famous pleading for Rome scene is intense and gripping, tightly performed.
Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia , tall cool and patrician , overly dominated and intimidated by Volumnia , was elegantly played by Hannah Morrish.
Menenius, genial, complacent and urbanely avuncular, is terrifically played by Paul Jesson , seemingly unaware that there is festering revolt beneath the surface mask of everyday life in Rome but revealing himself to be very brave in a crisis and a sharp negotiator.
Aufudius leader of the Volscians is brilliantly portrayed by James Corrigan . His scheming Aufidius, shows that it is possible to combine the art of a master swordsman and gracious formal diplomacy. When Coriolanus appears at his house in Antium he is stunned and disbelieving then thrilled . Is he in fact double crossing Coriolanus ?There Is also much hinting at a possible ‘bromance’ developing between Aufidius and Coriolanus and the murder of Coriolanus is quite shocking .
Cominius , who we first meet as commander of the Roman army is excellently portrayed by Charles Aitken.The two tribunes Brutus and Sicinius here portrayed by women Jackie Morrison and Martina Laird are strongly presented. The first half in particular seethes with tension and rage in the forum scenes.
A cold ,sharp brutal and violent production excitingly staged with a terrific cast .
Running time – allow 3 & ½ hours including interval. Includes short behind the scenes ‘making of ‘ documentaries and interviews during interval.
Screenings of the Royal Shakespeare’s Coriolanus are at selected cinemas 18-19 November 2017 and at Riverside Parramatta 25-26 November 2017