Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Coriolanus - NT Live

Last week I had my first National Theatre Live experience! As a Shakespeare fan, I had been desperate to get tickets for the Donmar Warehouse's production of Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss and was unsuccessful in getting tickets each time they went on sale. The National Theatre Live event, screened live in cinemas across the world is a fantastic way for theatre fans to have another opportunity to purchase tickets and to be part of a large audience which stretches around the globe.

Mark Gatiss as Menenius
Coriolanus begins with riots in Rome as the citizens go hungry. They are particularly angry with Roman general Caius Martius who they blame the most. Caius Martius leaves to fight a Volscian army led by his enemy Aufiduis. After some brave fighting, he almost defeats Aufidius and is praised. He is given the title of Coriolanus and returns as a hero. His proud mother Volumnia pushes Coriolanus to run for consul and he initially does well winning the 'voices' of the citizens, but two tribunes Brutus and Sicinius scheme against him and he soon loses him temper and reveals his feelings about the people. Coriolanus is banished from Rome, leaving his mother and wife heartbroken. He finds Aufidius, who offers to team up with him to lead a new assault on Rome. Volumnia pleads with her son to see the errors of his ways with tragic consequences...

Tom Hiddleston as Caius Martius Coriolanus
This is a powerful production of one of Shakespeare's most political plays. The intimate Donmar Warehouse presents and intimate and intense stage, with a wall covered in graffiti, a ladder and chairs moved around by the cast the only set. The cast seat in the chairs for most of the performance, giving the feeling that Coriolanus is on trial throughout the whole play.

The title role is played by Tom Hiddleston, who brings confidence and physicality to the role as well as some pathos. You really do believe that he could be the best soldier in Rome. He doesn't go over the top with aggression as some actors could in this role and his quieter moments are the most effective. Unfortunately Coriolanus should do his talking on the battlefield rather than to the citizens of Rome and nobody can do sarcasm and biting wit like Hiddleston, which is most apparent in the 'winning voices' scene!

Mark Gatiss is fantastic as patrician Menenius adding some humour to the bleak proceedings. His line delivery is brilliant as he embodies everything he is saying and highlights Shakespeare's references to 'stomachs' and 'hearts'. I hope he appears on the West End stage again very soon.

Birgitte Hjort Sorensen as Virgilia
Debroah Findlay is stunning as Volumnia, a woman who pushes her son too far and only realises when it is too late. The scene when she pleading with her son to stop his assault on Rome is moving, powerful and gripping. Coriolanus' quiet realisation as his eyes fill with tears while she does not give up in expressing her views to him is a stunning scene.

Birgette Hjort Sorensen makes a dignified Virgilia as Coriolanus' wife. It is a shame that the play does not give her more lines, but her quiet role as a woman worried about her husband is played perfectly, with her never coming across as a victim.

Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger are excellent as the tribunes Brutus and Sicinia. They are a brilliant plot device by Shakespeare as the provide some comic relief as well as being instrumental in the downfall of Coriolanus.
The rest of the cast were faultless with a special mention to Rochenda Sandall, as the First Citizen who opens the play with an energy which never stops. Josie Rourke's direction is impressive, with a great understanding of the play. She also injects some much needed humour and the death scene is shocking and powerful, although the shower scene felt like it was added in for the army of Tom Hiddleston fans!

I would definitely attend a National Theatre Live event in the future, if I was unable to get tickets for the theatre. I was impressed to be handed a 'programme' as we entered the screening with information about the play, theatre and the cast and production team as well as future NT Live events. I found the pre-show film to be really interesting and it set the scene really well and there was also an interesting interval feature with Director Josie Rourke. It was odd to have an interval at the cinema though and have to queue to use the toilet! It really did feel like I was at a theatre rather than my local Odeon! It was also amusing to find the audience in my screening unsure of whether to applaud or not!

I would have loved to have seen this production of Coriolanus in the intimate setting of the Donmar Warehouse, but my local cinema was the next best thing!

There are encore screenings of Coriolanus in cinemas across the UK on Thu 13 February - see here for more information http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/ntlout5-Coriolanus

Watch the trailer for Coriolanus below:

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