Last night, I went to my local cinema to see the National Theatre's broadcast of the Donmar production, 'Coriolanus', starring Tom Hiddleston.
And I was blown away.
A fantastic cast made this lesser-known play of Shakespeare's truly come alive. The pacing was spot on, never letting up for an instant, yet there were plenty of quiet moments too.
A brief summary of the plot: Caius Martius is a Roman soldier in the days before the Empire. Italy is made up of lots of smaller warring states. Martius's mother, Volumnia, has brought her son up to be a war machine, and she is more proud of his wounds got in battle than she would be pleased to see him return unharmed.
Martius, single-handedly, takes the enemy town of Corioles, and for this, his name is appended with Coriolanus. Martius has a rival for soldiership and glory, by name of Aufidius, who share a mutual admiration.
However, when Martius returns to Rome, he refuses to humble himself before the common people in order to win their vote to become a Consul. His pride and contempt leads the people to reject and banish him. He takes his leave of his home city, and travels to find Aufidius. He hopes to be taken into Aufidius's company, and together, they can storm Rome, murder its inhabitants, so that Martius can punish them for his treatment of them.
Aufidius is only too pleased to befriend Martius, confessing that he loves him more than his wife. But he soon grows jealous of the love his own soldiers develop for Martius, and when Volumnia pleads with her son to stop his attack on Rome, and Martius agrees, Aufidius feels betrayed, and takes his own revenge.
It is a gripping and visceral play, yet not one that many people, including myself, are familiar with. I had seen the Ralph Fiennes film version, and wasn't over keen on that, and I couldn't remember how the play ended.
What can I say about Tom Hiddleston? I thought he was superb as Prince Hal and Henry V in the BBC productions a year or so again, and, of course, love him as Loki in Thor and Avengers Assemble, but he was incredible on stage in this. Savage and needy, cruel and affectionate in turns, he captured all of the nuances of this character. He has an impressive physicality on stage, as evidenced by his first fight scene with Aufidius, played by Hadley Fraser, where he is literally thrown over Aufidius's head and slammed into the floor, as well as the end scene where he is strung upside down in chains. He made the character of Caius Martius plausible.
The staging is pretty impressive as well, despite there being practically no props used. The Donmar Warehouse theatre is an old warehouse and still looks like one, so the stage was about the size of an average living-room. There was a vertically placed ladder always present, and the rear wall was used to project images and slogans onto. Chairs were brought forwards and back to serve as the Senate House and a trench, while painted squares denoted rooms and a dais. Very effective with so little effort. This is why I love theatre.
Deborah Findlay played an excellent Volumnia, with Mark Gatiss wonderfully urbane as Menenius.
I'm gushing, I know, but others are loving it too, as apparently people are camping out to try and get the day release tickets for this production. It was that good.
I am a Copywriter, Proofreader, Virtual Secretary and Author.