Image: Donmar Warehouse
A production of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays staged in a warehouse used for banana ripening sounds like it shouldn’t work. Broadcast the production live to cinemas around the country and the prospect becomes even more baffling. However, Donmar Warehouse’s production of the gritty Coriolanus, a Roman epic following the story of the egotistical army commander Caius Marcius Coriolanus in his attempt to become a politician, is powerful and exhilarating theatre that packs a tremendous punch, even on screen.
As one of Shakespeare’s more difficult plays, Coriolanus is often hard to get right. However, director Josie Rourke has done a fabulous job stripping it back, aiding audiences in their comprehension of the story and their connection with the characters, ensuring an engaging theatrical experience.
In fact a warehouse suited as the perfect setting for this stripped back production. Firstly, the small size of the theatre intensifies the production with a more intimate setting. Secondly, Rourke states that rather than using elaborate props and settings in her production, the stage remains basic with just a brick wall, a ladder and a few chairs in order not to distract from what could be a confusing story. Graffiti of ‘grain at our own price’ and ‘traitor’ often cleverly appears on the brick wall, enabling us to really get a sense of the anger of the mob and the tumult Rome is in. The stage is given dynamism through the use of a ladder, which Coriolanus often climbs to emphasise his belief that he is above everyone and born to rule.
Casting Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus was a brilliant move. One of the hottest young British actors at the moment, most famous for playing Loki in Marvel films, he also helps bring the production up to date and acts as another point of connection for the audience. Although young for a role normally played by more seasoned thespians, Hiddleston commands the stage, and that is not only physically. Never sure whether to fear him or admire him, Hiddleston plays with our hearts and sympathies as we are drawn to him with his magnetic performance. Often covered in blood, you can tell he enjoys violence and often longs for it. However, we pity him as his fierce mother, Deborah Findley giving a fantastic performance as Volumni, is clearly a bad influence on him, hoping that he comes back from the wars scarred. She contrasts well with Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as his gentle wife Virgilia and the ever wonderful Mark Gatiss as Menenius, a character that brings some much needed light comic relief during this powerful tragedy.
Coriolanus is certainly an intense and powerful play, nail-biting towards the very end with twists and turns that both shock and horrify the audience, leaving you in stunned silence after the final traumatic scene. The mass politics and corruption of Coriolanus only serves to highlight our own age of modernity and ensures that audiences can finally connect with a story that has often been difficult to transfer on to stage.