CORIOLANUS: William Shakespeare
Runs: 3h, one interval, till 31 March
Stratford Upon Avon, Main House (the last of the Complete Works festival and the last run in the RST)
Review: Rod Dungate, 6 March 2007
Brooding, painful, play for our times
Watching this strong, bold production, I’m surprised how dark the play is – how little hope it seems to offer to us in managing the politics of our affairs. Looking back at other reviews of the play I’ve written I seem to have been surprised then. But as we move into ever more murkier political times ourselves, as our present day media feeds the slow-burning sleaze bonfire for its own, self-serving, self-perpetuating ends, I find Gregory Doran’s production really, truly, dark.
We have a powerful soldier who becomes a potentially great leader but who despises the people he should govern, we have the people’s elected leaders (appropriately seedy in Fred Ridgeway’s and Darren Tunstall’s performances) more concerned with preserving their powers than preserving the good, we have a mother who glories in her son’s wounds, a government that banishes a potential leader and then is powerless in the face of the enemy.
Yes, Coriolanus eventually capitulates to his mother (and how we wait and wait and wait some more for his decision sharing every agonising second with him), a merciful about-turn; but it solves nothing, save earn him his own death – ‘Mother, Mother, what have you done?’
Richard Hudson’s often brooding sets, Tim Mitchell’s strong and atmospheric lighting, and Paul Englishby’s hard score capture the mood absolutely.
William Houston looks every bit a Coriolanus, muscular, energetic; and early on he drives the part with great passion, his eyes flashing with what might well be maniacal passion. He’s dangerous we can tell, he’s out of control we can suspect. Although the flame may burn more dully as the play progresses, Houston ensures it can flash, unsuspectingly, burn dangerously once more.
Janet Suzman (Volumnia) is chilling. Her stamp upon her son is clear, her authority as unforced as it is absolute. Her confrontation outside Rome with her son is magnificent – emotionally stretched to breaking point and underpinned by an extraordinary physicality.
If there is a quiet centre in this maelstrom it is Timothy West’s Menenius; his authority is quiet, gentle but not to be ignored – here is a man who has seen it all before, many times. One of Timothy West’s best performances of recent times.
The opening sections of the production are a bit manic, too full of shouting – it’s difficult to work out what’s going on. I hope this settles down, for, otherwise, under Doran’s hand, the build of the play is inexorable and hugely painful.
Caius Martius Coriolanus: William Houston
Volumnia: Janet Suzman
Virgilia: Eleanor Matsuura
Young Martius: Jonathan Clowes/ Edward Statham/ Daniel Wilkinson
Valeria: Darlene Johnson
Gentlewoman: Riann Steele
Cominius: Michael Hadley
Titus Lartius: Oliver Senton
Menenius: Timothy West
1st Roman Senator: Jonathan Melia
2nd Roman Senator: Arthur Kohn
Sicinius Velutus (Tribune): Fred Ridgeway
Junius Brutus (Tribune): Darren Tunstall
Aedile: Luke Rutherford
Messenger: Danny Seldon
1st Citizen: Jonty Stephens
2nd Citizen: Frances Jeater
3rd Citizen: Steve Varnom
Other Citizens: Robert Orme, Curtis Flowers, Richard Pepple
Tullus Aufidius: Trevor White
1st Senator: Guy Burgess
2nd Senator: Ricky Champ
1st Servingman: Steve Varnom
2nd Servingman: Robert Orme
3rd Servingman: Jonty Stephens
1st Watchman: Ricky Champ
2nd Watchman: Danny Seldon
1st Conspirator: Ricky Champ
2nd Conspirator: Curtis Flowers
3rd Conspirator: Richard Pepple
Directed by: Gregory Doran
Designed by Richard Hudson
Lighting Designed by: Tim Mitchell
Music Composed by: Paul Englishby
Sound Designed by: Martin Slavin
Fights Directed by: Terry King
Assistant Director: Christopher Rolls
Company Voice Work by: Charmian Hoare
Casting by: Sam Jones
Children’s Casting Director: Barbara Roberts