Review: Coriolanus

Ben Redwood 28 November 2012

Coriolanus

Corpus Playroom, 7pm, until Sat 1 Dec

Upon entering the Corpus Playroom I was greeted with a scene that could have been the tense opening credits of a film; figures in military attire sat in groups, biding their time; a lone soldier, (revealed as the villain, Aufidius – played convincingly by Adam Kirton) took centre stage and practised karate, his tensed muscles brimming, and Coriolanus (Justin Wells) perched alone, staring pensively into space. Whether intentional or not, I could smell sweat in the air, which to me evoked a charged, tense atmosphere which the play sustained throughout to great effect.

Coriolanus is certainly a tragedy of hubris, but its political intrigue, and its complex exploration of glory, individual greatness in relation to the fickle masses, and of honour, make it a delightfully difficult play to watch; and overall the performance was good. While some things could have been improved, the cast performed worthily, and one’s attention is captured throughout.

The clever direction engaged with the themes well; I particularly liked how the ubiquitous army uniforms brought out the raw aggression of the drama. Yet while this was very powerful, my main criticism stems from the lack of variety in this aggressive tone in the middle of the play; by the time the eighth soliloquy in a row was screamed, the front row were left wincing and there was little room for dramatic development aside from that of the plot itself. Consequently, it was the moments of quiet tension, of whispered rage and silent, pausing agony that truly brought shivers to the spine.

The acting was mostly positive, with good performances all around. Sicinius (Thea Hawlin) and Brutus (Chloe France) made melodramatically evil politicians, Menenius (Kim Jarvis) made a well-liked one, and Kirton embodied a convincingly sinister villain. I enjoyed Daniel Unruh’s performance as Cominius, which at times was very powerful; further his chemistry with Coriolanus, as well as Volumnia’s (Juliet Cameron-Wilson) and Virgilia’s (Georgia Wagstaff) brought out the best in lead Justin Wells’ acting. Occasionally lines were blurred or tripped over, but largely enunciated clearly, and the language and script were expressed passionately and allowed to flourish. Occasional stabs at comic relief came across as dissonant; mostly because the play excelled in its serious atmosphere, and the actors deserved to be taken seriously.

The lighting worked particularly well – not only did it provide a dramatic relief, but the interplay of silhouettes against the backdrop proved interesting, along with certain scenes positioned to make use of chiaroscuro in thought-provoking ways. The staging was kept perfectly simple; the tight space not only reflected Coriolanus’ own entrapment, but created a high pressure environment of great speed and intensity; the scene changes flowed brilliantly and built upon this. I particularly enjoyed what was done with the far the corner of the stage, which created a powerful sense of tragic futility.

Coriolanus is a lesser known play of Shakespeare’s, and while performed comparatively rarely, was argued by T. S. Eliot to be superior to Hamlet. All in all the cast don’t do a bad job at all, and it’s certainly worth seeing for its energy and passion.

Ben Redwood