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Coriolanus review – a vivid, fast-flowing production | Stage

Writing a review, today, feels strange. Coriolanus was the last performance I saw before the theatres were darkened by coronavirus. Nostalgically, I long to be back there, with Kate Rutter’s Citizen denouncing Coriolanus to her baton-wielding fellows as “chief enemy to the people”. Some are so close, I prepare to duck if necessary. As in their Julius Caesar (2017), director Robert Hastie and designer Ben Stones make the auditorium part of the Roman senate and forum, heightening sensations of shared space, of immediacy, live-ness, actors and audience breathing the same air – which, like so many aspects of communal experience, are absent now from our lives.

On this evening, though, the audience is wrapped into the action, invited to weigh the Citizen’s accusation against the actions of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Hastie’s modern-dress production clearly contrasts Coriolanus’s heroic effectiveness in a night-time commando attack with his ineffectiveness in the political arena, where his disdain for the “mutable, rank-scented” crowd is disastrous. Tom Bateman (above), who played Jekyll and Hyde in ITV’s 2015 series, powerfully expresses the extremes of Coriolanus’s character, although at times with an intensity that lacks the necessary modulation to bring out his complexity. Unable to be suave and honey-tongued like Menenius, his friend and adviser (a Yes Minister-smooth Malcom Sinclair), Coriolanus, rejected by the populace, joins Rome’s enemy Aufidius (unambiguously warrior-like Theo Ogundipe).

While Hastie’s production is visually vivid and its action fast-flowing, Shakespeare’s dramatic structure is undermined by half-formed ideas. For instance, presenting Coriolanus’s wife, Virgilia, as mute means her silence is imposed, not an act of choice. In spite of Hermon Berhane’s touchingly expressive portrayal, this weakens the contrast with Coriolanus’s verbally excessive mother, Volumnia (a martial Stella Gonet). Overall, then, an imperfect production, but an experience – totally alive in time and space – to be cherished.

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