Coriolanus

Tue 27th November – Sat 1st December 2012

reviews

Martin McGuigan

at 11:23 on 29th Nov 2012

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This was one of the more interesting uses of the space of the Corpus Playroom that I have seen. Rather than have a door for stage entrances and exits, the back of the stage was pinned up with straw sacking, and the actors between scenes sit on wooden pallets and boxes just behind the floor of the action. As the action opens and the audience files in, the actors appear to be in some kind of stasis: some play cards silently, Adam Kirton as Aufidius practises some Tai Chi, Michael Campbell repeats some lonesome guitar chords, while the rest stare vacantly into the distance. They are all dressed in modern military garb, even the characters who are not explicitly fighting soldiers. Coupled with the fact that the actors not in play sit back and watch the action, reacting to it, sometimes clambering over each other to prepare for the next scene, I got the impression of a group of bored soldiers performing the play for their own amusement, for themselves as audience. This idea can be felt just as acutely when the acting roles double up: Justin Wells makes a near-imperceptible switch from the First citizen of Rome to Caius Martius himself, and at his death as Coriolanus immediately gets up to become one of the Lords of Antium defending him.

Instead of having citizens onstage however, Sicinius and Brutus address the audience directly as the citizens. With the noted influence from Brecht on the playbill, the audience feels forced to mentally participate in this performance. Acknowledged and ignored at various points, we feel like the actors might, as they drift in and out of the grey areas between scenes.

Unfortunately, some of the actors think that the best way to do a Shakespeare monologue is by shouting VERY LOUDLY. While this might be an apt technique for some of Coriolanus as a play, given that so much of it concerns the vehemence and hair-trigger switch of Coriolanus himself, after a few speeches one wonders just how many can be delivered at fever-pitch. I think "overkill" is the right word to use. Justin Wells shows some nuance in his role, but the complex anger and disgust in the hero of Corioli is often expressed in one way, at one volume.

Something is to be said for the attempt to recreate a Shakespearean over-the-top style of acting in characters such as Volumnia. Juliet Cameron-Wilson makes that strange sexuality between mother and son genuinely creepy, while running the danger of over-acting. But this is balanced by the other players: our Sicinius and Brutus are crooked schemers, giving a feeling of Disney-cartoon version of their Machiavellian "bad-guy" characters, which sounds bad on paper but works really well. Similarly, Daniel Unruh as Cominius brings a stately ease to the play, reminiscent of Peter Mannion form The Thick of It.

I was reticent to compare this production to the recent Ralph Fiennes film version, but found one notable comparison, they both do well at trimming the fat from this long play.

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