Theatre Thursdays: Coriolanus (Again)

A while back we brought you the news that Tom Hiddleston was playing the title role in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and encouraged you to fly to London to see it (our argument, I believe, was something along the lines of “what argument do you need besides shirtless wet Hiddleston”). I have not flown to London in that interval, sadly, but I did seize on the next best—and significantly cheaper—option: seeing a screening of the production at a local movie theater.

Coriolanus_2013_playBefore I go into any depth on the show, let me just say this: If there is a theater in your area showing this as a movie, get ye hence and check it out. It was amazing.

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus in Coriolanus at Donmar 2013.So, for those who don’t know of this admittedly lesser-known bit of Shakespeare, Coriolanus is the story of Caius Martius, a patrician Roman general who, though a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, has less than generous views about the plebian lower classes. When a failed bid for a consul seat ends in his banishment from the city, he teams up with his former enemy to show Rome what happens when it makes an enemy of the man who single-handedly captured the city of Corioles. However, a last minute plea from his family stays his hand, and his new allies are less than pleased. Rome is saved, but Caius Martius “Coriolanus” is strung up and gutted. The end.

I can’t say it enough: I was blown away by this show. The acting, not just by Hiddleston but by the whole cast, was incredible. Deborah Findlay killed it as Caius Martius’s brutally overbearing mom, Alfred Enoch (who you may remember as a Gryffindor named Dean Thomas) did an amazing job in a supporting role, and Mark Gatiss played, well, a very Mycrofty bit as one of Caius’s friends. Furthermore, the ensemble was on fire; in a cast of less than twenty, the ensemble played a huge variety of parts depending on the scene at hand. Rochenda Sandall in particular was remarkably memorable, commanding equal attention to the top-billed actors when she was onstage.

coriolanus setThe set and costume design were also fascinating. The stage was tiny and had barely any decoration besides some hand-painted lines and old-school grafitti, a ladder, and some unadorned chairs. It was amazing seeing what the actors were able to do with such a bare space, and seeing how the designers were able to evoke so many different settings with very minimal lighting shifts and rearrangements. The costuming similarly married modern minimalism with an old Roman aesthetic, pairing armor with undershirts and cardigans with tunics for an effect I totally dug.

Finally, and this is a little thing, but I really appreciated the work that went into the filming itself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a filmed stage play that took the effort to shoot from different angles and zoom on the appropriate parts of the stage and all that. Even if this is par for the course for National Theatre Live, it was still a new and pleasing experience for me.

I only have a few real complaints about the production as a whole. Firstly, the sound design was kind of off-putting; clips of cacophonous music or just random noise were played between scenes to provide a transition, and although I appreciate the intention, the effect was kind of annoying and, to some extent, undermined the serious nature of the play.

Birgitte Hjort Srensen Virgilia and Tom Hiddleston Caius Martius Coriolanus Photo by Johan PerssonI was sad to see that Birgitte Hjort Sørensen’s role declined rapidly from “sarcastic, annoyed wife who wants her husband to come home from war” into “lady who cries a lot and kisses Tom Hiddleston”. The pre-film inside look at the casting made much of Sørensen’s work as a dramatic actress, so I was somewhat put out that I didn’t get to see a wider range of her talent onstage.

Finally, I was underwhelmed by the performance of the male Tribune; it seemed like he was going for lazily cunning, but next to his bombastic female fellow Tribune and the energetic delivery of the rest of the class, he just came off as half-assed.

However, all these are minor problems in the face of the overall quality of the production. While wet, bloody, shirtless Tom Hiddleston is, by itself, a very good reason to head to this show, Coriolanus has much more to offer than just that one scene’s worth of fanservice. Definitely watch it if you get the chance.

This scene is intense and amazingly acted, though, for the record.

This scene is intense and amazingly acted, though, for the record.