See This: Coriolanus
Angus Jackson’s ultra-stylish modern-dress Coriolanus at the RST, Stratford, is the fourth and concluding play in the RSC’s Rome series.
Angus Jackson’s modern-dress, futuristic take on one of Shakespeare’s most political tragedies is a stylish psychological drama with riveting central performances.
It’s also the first time I’ve ever seen a forklift truck making its RSC debut! The driver, after loading pallets piled high with sacks of corn into a warehouse, even earns himself a round of applause. As the dark grey electronic shutters close there’s practically a full-blown riot as protesters in hoodies with headscarves over their faces kick-off over food shortages – reminiscent of recent civil unrest across Europe and America.
Sope Dirisu’s powerful Coriolanus is a powerful, blood-soaked Marvel-style super-hero on the battle-field, single-handedly saving Rome and surviving 27 bodily wounds. There’s a terrific martial sword-fight with Volscian leader Aufidius.
His, is a more sympathetic reading of Shakespeare’s flawed general, closer to his politically-aware mother Volumnia, than his graceful, quietly-spoken wife, Virgilia – played by Hannah Morrish. Ambitious Volumnia, in turn, lives vicariously through her child.
Modest of his achievements Coriolanus storms off an awards ceremony podium – “Please no more it does offend my head” – refusing to hear his “nothings monstered”. A hero unsuited to public life he is forced into a leadership role against his will.
The minimalist set moves between sleek magazine-style interiors – huge lampshades, white marble classical sculptures and teal sofa – to urban warfare and industrial scaffolding. A subtle operatic score intensifies the tension.
Paul Jesson is highly-convincing as the kindly paternal mentor, Menenius, and Charles Aitken is full of energy and vigour as Coriolanus’ loyal comrade, Cominus. Striking a blow for 21st Century gender diversity in politics Angus Jackson switches the sex of Shakespeare’s male tribunes. Jackie Morrison and Martina Laird rouse the mob in business suits urging them to banish Coriolanus for his “tyranny”.
There are moments of pure comedy too. When banished Coriolanus turns up at the house of his arch-enemy in a ruck-sack, unannounced, Aufidius – James Corrigan – welcomes him with the excitement of a long-lost lover. The reaction of Aufidius’ servants to their ensuing bromance is hilarious.
Svelte Hadyn Gwynne is magnificent as Volumnia. We witness her fall from grace as glamorous socialite to outcast parent, begging her son to save Rome. The pain etched on her face as she walks away holding young Martius’s hand insinuates she knows what she’s done to her son but cannot save him from himself…
Muddy Verdict: An absorbing 2hrs and 40 minutes. Gripping edge-of-your-seat theatre and psychological drama that allows you to draw your own political conclusions.
Coriolanus runs at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until Sat Oct 14 and is live in cinemas on Wed Oct 11, rsc.org.uk. Box office: 01789 403493. It will transfer to the Barbican for a limited London Season from Nov 6-18.