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A CurtainUp London Review
Hiddleston must be the most likable version I have ever seen of Shakespeare's warrior Roman, the blood thirsty Coriolanus. Josie Rourke's production sizzles with excitement and dramatic tension. The whole cast are placed onstage on rows of chairs, except that we have to wait for Coriolanus' magnificent entrance. Political messages are written on the wall behind the stage about the price of grain.
Mark Gatiss plays Menenius the reflective politician who tries to calm the rioters but Caius Martius, later Coriolanus (Tom Hiddleston), is blamed for the grain being taken away and two tribunes Brutus (Elliot Levey) and the feminised Sicinia (Helen Schlesinger) plot against him. Coriolanus' response is to blame the inconstancy of the people. As characters are mentioned in speeches, the director has them stand which adds clarity to the storytelling.
Caius Martius leaves to battle the Volscians led by Northern accented Audfidius (Hadley Fraser) and his courage there wins him the name Coriolanus. The sword fighting takes your breath away. Deborah Findlay plays his ball breaking mother Volumnia, not a role that she is particularly comfortable with. She is also outplayed for viciousness by Helen Schlesinger as Senecia, an unintended outcome of the gender reversal for the perfidious tribune. Hiddleston always commands the stage, noble and straight but in this performance Coriolanus' patrician arrogance doesn't come to the surface and instead we see a man of conscience and courage, a superb soldier who hasn't the patience for the long political game. Hiddleston's performance is dedicated and thrilling and it is for me the most affecting Shakespearean performance of the year.
Coriolanus' decision to respond to the pleas of his family not to take arms against Rome for the Volscians, but to negotiate a peace has inevitable and brutal consequences but it makes the real power shaker of this play, Volumnia as she turns her son towards his inevitable death. The wonderful closeness of the Donmar has the proponents talking directly to you and, in this case, I think that the recording for cinema will be very much the same experience as those in the Donmar's 250 seated audience. It is exciting to see Mark Gatiss whose initial breakthrough was in comedy acting, tackling a Shakespearean role and achieving subtlety and depth.
Josie Rourke is to be congratulated for making this often tedious play sing with life and the drama never pales. The politicians, the tribunes, are the villains of the play and we hope they come to a sticky end.
This play has been sold out for many months but there are days seats and people queuing for returns had some success if they had got there early enough.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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