Barbican Theatre, London – until 18 November 2017
Set in a time of modern day civil/class warfare, Angus Jackson’s take on Coriolanus offers up glimpses of masterful performance. With design and costume by Robert Innes Hopkins, the production sets out to contrast the similarities between ancient, strife-torn Rome and today’s United Kingdom, polarised over Brexit. As the plebeian citizens revolt, clad in hoodies and torn denim and brandishing barbed wire donned bats, the patrician elite surrounded by glowing marble and cascading canopies have discarded their weapons in favour of carefully nursed champagne flutes.
It’s an intelligent concept, and there is some real beauty on stage, but the piece (much like Blanche McIntyre’s production of Titus Andronicus in this current RSC Rome season) lacks a weight in its argument. The cast are fairly young (too young?) and in the title role Sope Dirisu who while clearly a strong and intelligent actor, does not yet possess the gravitas or age to make his Coriolanus credible. Granted, his agility lends itself brilliantly to Terry King’s fight scenes; bloody, exciting and believable as they are, but the depiction of a boy playing at war does not stir the audience.
The saving grace of this piece lies with the women. As the more socially present of the two tribunes, the voices of the poor among the socialites, Jackie Morrison’s Sicinius Veletus is a feisty and undeterred figure. Her performance is almost Nicola Sturgeon-esque in her political battle to banish Coriolanus from Rome, with again a relevance to Britain’s current political standing being cleverly played. Not from this play, but referencing Morrison, Shakespeare’s words “Though she be but little, she is fierce”, are apt.
The evening’s star performance comes from Haydn Gwynne who brings a strength and elegance to Volumnia. Playing the ever loving yet overbearing mother of Coriolanus, she dreams of success and glory for her son, successfully moulding him into the figure of state that she longs to be but is just out of her grasp. Gwynne’s presence is magnetic, owning every inch of the stage from the moment she arrives. Her second-half speech, begging her son for peace toward Rome after his banishment and unity with their enemy is an unmissable masterclass in Shakespeare.
Runs until 18th NovemberReviewed by Charlotte DarcyPhoto credit: Helen Maybanks (c) RSC