Review – Coriolanus

Feb 28 2013 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩ Quiet

Sarah McGuinness (Velumnia) and Andy Edwards (Coriolanus) in the EUSC 2013 production of Coriolanus. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge @

Sarah McGuinness (Velumnia) and Andy Edwards (Coriolanus) in the EUSC 2013 production of Coriolanus. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge @

The Pleasance
Wed 27 Feb – Sat 2 March 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Bloody retribution, a few slit throats and a mother’s surprising influence make sure that there are few uneventful moments in Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s starkly 80s take on Shakespeare’s great tragedy of Coriolanus.

For many of those moments, however, the significance of the events becomes lost. This is a company which has a strong grasp of Shakespearian delivery, but which seems content to deliver it at a level that is only audible on stage.

That said, director William Watt has given EUSC a fine filleting of Shakespeare. Realising that the architecture of state which underpins Coriolanus’ story is not easily comprehensible without a lesson in Roman politics, he has created a streamlined version that sticks with the key events.

Moving the action to the 80s, Rome is represented by sharp-suited power-loving Thatcherite types for whom the arrogant General Coriolanus is hero. Their mortal enemies, the Volsces of Antium, are a laid-back bunch, permanently on dress-down Friday and led by the Smiths-loving Aufidius.

With a few videos of the Northern Ireland Troubles to lighten the evening, it is played out on a barely set stage. Characters drift on and off to illustrate the changing tides of battle, but the really bloody bits happen on video.

Andy Edwards’ Coriolanus is a strangely sterile character, haughty and contemptuous of the plebeians, who he believes don’t deserve welfare if they won’t join his fight. Frank Kerr gives Aufidius a youthfully naive sense of righteousness, without making him any more likeable.

Foul-breathed riffraff

Coriolanus’ problems start when he attempts to become a member of the Senate. Its existing members have agreed he should join. Now all he has to do is convince the plebeians – the taxpaying Roman citizens – that he is worthy of their support.

Unfortunately he regards them as foul-breathed riffraff and has no intention showing off of his wounds won in battle, as is expected of him. It’s not that he’s too modest, but such things are beneath him.

Despite a fantastic performance from Sarah McGuinness as Coriolanus’ mum, Volumnia, this plods along nicely enough for half an hour or so. It is not until the production moves away from battles towards purely political machinations, that it begins to gain any real intensity.

The move is supported by a couple of good turns from Sacha Timæus and Lucy Taylor as the two Tribunes, elected to represent the wishes of the Plebeians. Coriolanus obviously hasn’t greased their palms as he might, and they have taken against him – to the point that instead of becoming elected, he is sent into exile.

Which is not an astute move, Coriolanus and Aufidius hook up to defeat Rome – only to be halted by a timely intervention from Volumnia. That intervention is the heart of this production and McGuinness really steps up the performance to the point where even Edwards begins to engage.

This ends up being a likeable enough piece of theatre, for all that you feel it is scratching the surface of something a lot bigger. Watt has the beginning of a good idea in his relocation to the 80s. It doesn’t quite fit, though, and is crying out for more depth to the move.

There are generally solid performances all round – but the quietness is quite debilitating to the text. It is quite perverse that performers who can work the meter to make the language accessible to modern ears with such ease, fail to deliver whole scenes audibly.

It is a problem cased partly by using loudness to indicate mood. When people are angry, they shout. When they are being intense, they quieten down until, called to deliver a killer line, they inexplicably do so so quietly as to render it impotent.

Running time: 2 hours 15 mins.
Daily, 7.30pm. Run ends Saturday.
Edinburgh University Shakespeare Society website:
Tickets from the XTS pro website:

the EUSC 2013 production of Coriolanus. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge @

The EUSC 2013 production of Coriolanus. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge @










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