Stratford Upon Avon and London (Barbican)
CORIOLANUS: William Shakespeare
RSC: Main House
Runs: 3h 10m, one interval. Stratford then London (Barbican) to 18 November
Tkts: 0844 800 1110
Review: Rod Dungate, 23 September 2017
Lessons we seem unable to learn
I’m sure the play hasn’t changed; so either I have or the times have because in Angus Jackson’s multi-layered production Shakespeare’s examination of the workings of political power seems relevant in a way it has never seemed before. Notions of political power are shifting as we see around the world the flaws in our notion of democracy so I guess I am changing too. But much credit must be owed to Jackson and his team for their forensic examination; we are grateful of the clarity with which he presents the arguments.
Coriolanus is a war hero and is thrust into political leadership by the ruling elite; he feels ill equipped, he despises the common people, but his Establishment coach him in presentation, say they will back him up. They clearly wish to cling on to power, but, they argue, it is for the good of the country. The People want a leader who will protect their rights and look out for them; they are helped in their cause by the Tribunes – chillingly powerful figures in this production. The Tribunes are clearly after power, but, they argue, it is for the good of the people. This is a world of presentation, manipulation, half-truths (dare I say fake news?), machinations, and
grabs for power. Ring any bells?
The play falls into halves – the first political, the second personal. In the second half we see Coriolanus destroyed, not by his inability to do the right thing, but rather by the lack of any right thing to do.
In many ways, then, Jackson presents us with a bleak picture; and that also possibly chimes strongly with our times.
Sope Dirisu is an absorbing Coriolanus. He lacks the natural authority we may have seen in past Coriolanuses but this is spot-on. What is never in doubt is the disdain he feels for the commoners, nor his vain attempt to convince them otherwise. This Coriolanus grows in stature as he grows more certain of himself though ironically we dislike his views. We truly empathise with him in his final moments. It is a masterful portrayal. What Coriolanus lacks in natural authority is made up for in Haydn Gwynne’s fabulous Volumnia. Volumnia is a fearsome character, but Gwynne’s easeful manner and total embodiment of the text make it difficult to condemn her and you can’t take your eyes off her.
Paul Jesson set enables the action to flow smoothly and the sound of its metal shutters rising and closing adds an additional bleakness.
Coriolanus is not easy going, but it’s well worth making the effort.
(Full Credits to Follow)