On YouTube – National Theatre at Home
While I’ve managed to see most of Shakespeare’s plays on stage, Coriolanus is one that has always eluded me – not through any deliberate policy but simply circumstance. The only time I can remember seeing it at all was in a TV version with the great Alan Howard – whether he was great in it I really can’t recall.
So it was with a sense that, even if it wasn’t in the theatre, I was moving a little closer to completion of the canon that I took my customary seat on a Thursday evening for the latest broadcast from National Theatre At Home. I was struck, repeatedly, by the play’s contemporary resonances.
In fact, the recording is from a few years back. It is the Donmar Warehouse’s production directed by Josie Rourke in 2013 and starring Tom Hiddleston as Caius Marcius, later entitled Coriolanus in honour of his brave deeds in capturing a town almost single-handed. At the time Hiddleston had just become a major player in Hollywood and tickets for the small auditorium were like the proverbial gold dust and sold for a small fortune.
And he is worth the price of admission as he demonstrates a controlled sense of power in dealing with his own soldiers, the Roman citizens, politicians, his family and his great enemy Aufidius. It would be easy to play the part as a man who shouts a lot and metaphorically stamps his feet in petulant fury until he gets his own way, but Hiddleston does so much more with this – especially when he is still and the pain he is experiencing is present in his eyes rather than his voice. We begin to understand that the surface level bravado covers up the insecurities and uncertainties of a man who has been brought up to be a ruthlessly ambitious killing machine, never to back down and certainly never to apologise or explain. I’m afraid Mr Cummings’ recent behaviour is all too evident.
The other powerhouse performance comes from Deborah Findlay as Volumnia, the mother from hell. Findlay is one of those actors who never seems to give a bad performance and she is in top form here blazing with righteous indignation and a single mindedness in achieving a goal even if (as a woman) she has to do this through a third party she can bend to her will (shades of our current political situation again). Effectively she condemns her own son to death in the same way that Lady Macbeth does her husband and Findlay brings a frightening intensity to her clear-sighted portrayal. To complete a triumvirate of excellent performances there is also Mark Gatiss’s wily politician Menenius. In contrast the performance here is light and understated though none the less powerful for that. The rejection scene when his virtual (actual?) son turns against him is a small gem of controlled emotional acting. The rest of the (surprisingly) small cast give good value too; I particularly liked the double act of Helen Schlesinger and Elliot Levey as a pair of conniving politicians. The one false note for me was the rather cliched handling of the Volscians; turning them into stock northerners was not a wise decision. While it helped with differentiating who was who, it came across as a bit too pat for my liking.