On Thursday evening I went along to my local Cineworld to watch the NT Live broadcast of Donmar Warehouse’s 2014 production of Coriolanus. I had actually seen it before, twice. Once live at the Donmar, after getting up ridiculously early and queuing for hours to get tickets, and then I also watched the original live NT broadcast. The fact that I’ve seen it multiple times must already make it obvious that I think very highly of this production, and no, it’s not just because of Tom Hiddleston, although I’ll admit he is probably the reason why I originally wanted to see it. My only previous contact with the play was the Ralph Fiennes film, which I really didn’t enjoy when I saw it, but I would like to watch it again now I’ve seen a production I liked.
The challenge with Coriolanus is that he isn’t a likeable character. He is incredibly cruel when speaking to the ordinary people of Rome, and has a superiority complex. However, in this production I did feel….not as far as sympathy, but definitely some understanding of Coriolanus’ viewpoint. He says that he does not want to be a politician, he is a soldier, but others (his mother especially) are insistent. He is unhappy with some of the rituals he has to follow, such as wearing the gown of humility (which I’m guessing is the opposite of the cone of shame from Up) to show his battle scars and collecting the people’s voices. This in no way excuses his behaviour, but in some ways you can understand his reluctance. Also, with a mother like Volumnia pushing him on taking pride in his battle injuries, it’s no wonder he’s a little messed up.
What I’ve loved about seeing this multiple times is that I’ve picked up on different things each time. This week, I was struck by how hard the actors playing the four citizens worked (Rochenda Sandall, Mark Stanley, Dwane Walcott and Jacqueline Boatswain). I think I’d forgotten just how many characters they all played. Brilliant, a tougher job than the leads, you could argue. The cast as a whole was incredibly strong, with Deborah Findlay, Peter de Jersey, Elliott Levey, Hadley Fraser, Mark Gatiss and Tom Hiddleston giving exceptional performances.
I was also more aware of costume choices this time. I hadn’t noticed before how the young actor playing Young Martius (Joe Willis) wore an exact smaller copy of what Hiddleston wore. I was also aware of the very neutral colours chosen for the costumes, all grey, black, navy, dark green and dark purple. No one wore bright colours. I’d like to know more about that choice. Another staging choice I admired that hadn’t struck me before was the final scene. After Coriolanus’ throat was cut, Aufidius let his blood drip onto his face. Then, as Coriolanus hung upside down, we saw Volumnia face the audience with red petals falling onto her, just like the drops of blood onto Aufidius. Excellent touch.
Overall, a wonderful production that I feel very lucky to have seen live. Although I think NT Live broadcasts are wonderful, nothing can beat live performances. I wouldn’t say that Coriolanus has become one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but it’s incredibly interesting with regards to democracy and what makes a good leader. I hope that Tom Hiddleston does more stage work soon as he is incredibly talented. Also, as a side note, I admire the fact that he didn’t take a solo curtain call. There is no way of knowing if that was his personal choice or the director’s, but I like it when plays are acknowledged as the work of an entire company. That isn’t to say I judge actors who do take solo curtain calls, but I admire it when they don’t.