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THEATRE ONLINE Coriolanus, National Theatre at Home

Gritty account of the downfall of an uncompromising war lord

CORIOLANUS is possibly the most single-track and linear of all Shakespeare’s works.

With no subplots or deviation from its core theme, what seems like a predictable tale of  military might and political power is, by the conclusion, a simple account of the complexities and  inner workings of one man’s mind.

The fearless and commanding Caius Martius — Coriolanus — is a Roman military leader whose macho world of bloody battles and swaggering pride, synonymous almost with the modern world of car chases and shoot-outs, has earned his sobriquet in recognition of one such battle.

But, from the outset, another significant detail is factored into the narrative which crucially shifts the emphasis — the hero’s mother, Volumnia, is his driving force. Ambitious and unsentimental, like a conquering  Boadicea she has spurred her son on from birth to be the glorious hero he now is.

Nurture has conspired with nature to create man as monster, causing his lifelong and loyal friend Menenius to rage: “He is grown from man to dragon.” But nurture and nature together spawn many things and Coriolanus is finally forced to face a deeper self that belies the relentless chutzpah and heralds his tragic end.  

At two hours and 40 minutes, the play has been significantly cut and while battles are enacted sparsely and creatively on the intimate Donmar stage, some of the insight into the plebeian crowd despised with uncompromising patrician arrogance by Coriolanus is absent.

But Josie Rourke directs a splendid cast with clarity and intelligence and, together with designer Lucy Osborne, translates the ancient-world setting into a contemporary framework.

Mark Gatiss is a wonderfully wry Menenius and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen gives a deeply sensuous performance as Coriolanus's faithful and loving wife Virgilia.

But all hinges on the central performances and Deborah Findlay, as Volumnia, feels as definitive as an armed Athena while Tom Hiddlestone effortlessly transmutes from arrogant, swaggering toff to a man at war with himself.

A clear and purposeful rendition of this powerful tale.

Free on YouTube until June 11, youtube.com/watch?v=XHqkEruwBT0

 

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