Where: Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9LX
When: 6 December 2013-8 February 2014. Broadcast to cinemas on 30 January
How long: 2h30 with 15 minute interval
Tickets from: £10 (you’ll be lucky, though)
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Coriolanus is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus one of my favourite Shakespeare films/productions, and Tom Hiddleston’s one of my favourite current actors, so the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus was something I was looking forward to considerably. The story of a Roman general whose love of Rome is matched only by his hatred of the average Roman, it looks at the nature of democracy, how much we rely on people who might not have our best interests at heart but without whom we couldn’t survive, and the nature of politics and loyalty.
It’s also one of Shakespeare’s war plays. This is an important point because the Donmar is an intimate venue and having armies clash on stage isn’t really within its purview. Indeed, bar a couple of fight scenes employing some reasonably good stage jiu jitsu and swordfighting, the Donmar production is a resultantly somewhat talky affair, something that the director goes to considerable lengths to obscure, perhaps with one eye on the fact this will be beamed into cinemas at the end of the month. There’s all manner of things dropped from the ceiling, when the cast aren’t sat on chairs at the back of a scene watching proceedings they’re marching up and down stage to rearrange on them and stand on them, Tom Hiddleston gets his top off and has a shower, there’s climbing up and down ladders and walls – the list goes on.
Hiddleston is the headliner and although he’s very good, he’s slightly miscast for the role: Coriolanus is a cold, imperious eagle of a man, whom no one but another soldier could love; Hiddleston, despite his best efforts, is effortlessly charming and even amusing, light because of his age, rather than a venomous ball of entitlement. It doesn’t help that the director, Josie Rourke, aims for comedy whenever possible, which detracts from the play’s hard edge, or that Coriolanus’ arch-enemy, Hadley Fraser’s Tullus Aufidius, is equally young and not especially threatening. Indeed, with his Saxon/Viking outfit and his army of Northerners ranked against Hiddleston’s Southerners, it sometimes feels like an episode of Game of Thrones, except Hiddleston is the Rob Stark of the piece, Fraser the Theon Greyjoy.
Also in the cast is TV’s Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who and Sherlock writer and actor, but let us not forget The League of Gentlemen), whose Menenius is perhaps more lounge lizard than need be, but he deals with both comedy and drama well. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Borgen) plays Hiddleston’s wife, but gets roughly five lines so you wonder why she bothered coming over from Denmark at all, other than for the experience. In fact, it’s Deborah Findlay, who plays Volumnia, Coriolanus’ wife, who comes out of the play best, effortlessly dominating every scene she’s in, in part thanks to a generous performance by Hiddleston.
It’s a good production, imaginative in many ways, but perhaps one that thinks its audience will balk at its relative bleakness and over-compensates.