Coriolanus

November 9, 2016 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆  Timely

Bedlam Theatre: Tues 8 – Sat 12 November 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

EUTC’s production of Coriolanus at the Bedlam is a pertinent and particularly well staged production.

Coriolanus, the general from the early days of the Roman republic, has never been as common a sight on stage as Shakespeare’s other great tragic heroes. Yet something in the story of a man who enters politics despite being temperamentally unsuited, finds himself exiled and swears revenge, has seen it revived more frequently in recent years.

Rob Younger. Photo EUTC

Rob Younger. Photo EUTC

This production could not be more timely; a central character who runs for high office despite lacking any experience, being supremely arrogant and refusing to acknowledge any mistakes, chimes oddly with current events. And if Coriolanus has no truck with popular movements – holding ordinary people in open contempt – there are also characters who encourage populism (up to and including incitements to violence) in order to gain power, while ignoring the wishes of their supporters as much as possible.

Events on both sides of the Atlantic give the play supreme relevance this year, and particularly this week; and if this production never quite generates the bewilderment, apprehension and anger that seem to be the only sane responses to current events, it has a lot going for it.

One of the reasons for the play’s relative obscurity must be the opaque central character, who has few redeeming features and whose motivations in general, and overweening pride in particular, are a mystery to modern audiences. It takes a mighty performance to overcome this; while Rob Younger is not quite in that category, his considerable presence holds everything together, and he discharges large quantities of blank verse with skill.

It is the performance of the language that really distinguishes this production. Director Joseph McAulay has ensured that the vast majority of a huge cast speak the lines as if they understand what they are saying, and with rhythm when applicable. Neither of these are as easy, or as common, as they sound.

appropriate

From the first scene, it is clear how much attention has been paid to this. The smallest speaking parts in the ensemble get it right from the off – Heather Daniel and Jacob Brown particularly noteworthy, but everyone does well. This is mirrored by the ambitious plebeian tribunes who are to become Coriolanus’s enemies – Jenn Jones (Sicinius) and En Thompson (Brutus) combine a degree of naturalism with appropriate attention to the artificiality of the verse.

bedlam-website

Even better is Alice Markey as the hero’s mother Volumnia. In a magnetic performance, she manages to make archaic obsessions with honour and battle wounds sound plausible. At times, the shifts between emotional states are a touch rapid, and she overuses a dramatic falling away at the ends of lines; remedying this would make an already exceptional display something very special indeed.

Charlotte Robathan presents Coriolanus’s wife Virgilia as an effectively fragile, hugely damaged woman, while Verity Brown’s noblewoman Valeria overcomes a tendency to play it for laughs to become another compelling portrait.

This desire to seize any possibility for humour also hampers Charlie Ralph as the patrician Menenius, but once the over-flappiness settles down he visibly grows into a character of substance and a surprising degree of sympathy.

Peter Morrison and Michael Zwiauer, as the officers Cominius and Titus Lartius, have a convincing military bearing. Morrison’s only fault comes in his longer speeches, where a desire to get to the end leads him into a headlong rush that can verge on gabbling.

a visceral physicality

A similar turn of speed occasionally hampers Daniel Orejon as Coriolanus’s frequent foe in battle, and later ally, Aufidius. The homo-erotic undercurrent often detected between those two characters is here more of a raging torrent, and is very much front and centre. While this is a justifiable reading of the text, it has the unfortunate effect of making Aufidius’s later actions seem to be those of a slighted lover – an impression strengthened by the unaccountable interpolation of a chunk of Othello into his closing speech.

Where Orejon shines, alongside others, is in the fight sequences. Such scenes can be inadequate at close quarters, but there is a visceral physicality that even misbehaving props cannot spoil; fight choreographer Rachel Bussom deserves special praise.

There is a well-drilled feeling to the whole production, and McAulay obviously knows what he is doing. The small facial expressions and gestures by characters not speaking that add texture, but can degenerate into upstaging and endless rhubarbing are very well handled here. At over three hours, further cuts would be desirable even in a less Arctic venue, but it rarely drags.

As is often the case, the most concrete updatings cause the most problems. The constant use of text messages only raises questions as to why the most unlikely people are receiving them, and why characters cannot be contacted at other times. James Beagon’s projections work well, but the more they reference real recent events the less exact the parallels seem to be.

Radio broadcasts telling us Where We Have Got To are not only unnecessary when the cast are doing such a good job, but their language seems like deliberate bathos compared to what surrounds them. However, they come into their own at the end; offering no possibility of catharsis, the clear signal is of an uncertain future offering only austerity, doubt and fear. This is the only possible outcome of a production that is relevant, troubling and packs a considerable punch.

Running time 3 hours 10 minutes including one interval
Bedlam Theatre, 11 Bristo Place,, EH1 1EZ
Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 November 2016
Daily at 7.30pm
Full details and tickets on the Bedlam website: https://www.bedlamtheatre.co.uk/shows/eutc-coriolanus

ENDS

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