To take a play as epic in scale as Coriolanus and find a natural home within the intimacy of London’s Donmar Warehouse take a skill and lightness of touch that is not only rare but all so often missed. Open a copy of the play at any page and you can hear the sound and fury of Ancient Rome. Director Josie Rourke has sliced through a lot of the sound and most of the fury to get to the very heart of Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Battle lines are drawn from the beginning as Tom Hiddleston‘s Caius Marcius is elevated from warrior to statesman via his persuasive mother. Never having the ‘popular’ vote in Rome and turning his back on vengeance and his allegiance with the Volscians, Coriolanus’s downfall is swift.
Whilst there is still a fair share of testosterone turned up to eleven, Rourke has taken a broadsword to the script and deftly crafted a lean, swift and feisty political thriller out of Shakespeare’s overblown Roman spectacle. In addition, Hiddleston slips into the armour of the Roman Emperor effortlessly. His arrogance, charm, swagger and rarely seen vulnerability are all on show, as is his athletic prowess around the Donmar stage.
In lesser productions, you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t a female role of note. That thought is quickly put out to pasture thanks to Deborah Findlay‘s powerhouse performance as Caius Marcius’s mother Volumnia. Her command of the stage, as well as her son, is the driving force in the early stages of the production, and her maternal desire for her son to step down near the end is heartbreaking.
Rourke has also gleaned humour from this production, often in the shape of Mark Gatiss‘s Menenius. Whether it be words of wisdom or a thrown-away thought, the adaptation is powered by sharp wit and quick thinking.
Alongside Lucy Osbourne’s intelligent design that lends itself to swift transitions, grand-scale orations and intimate interactions, this is Josie Rourke‘s Coriolanus: a triumph of vision and theatricality.
Originally published on Broadway World.