What: Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)
Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
When: October 2017
Coriolanus is, in its full form, the second longest play in Shakespeare’s canon. Performed in its entirety it would take up four hours or more of your life. Here at the RSC, it takes 2 hours and forty minutes – three hours if you include the break in the middle for ice cream.
Next to me in the seats are a group of Americans who are evidently studying Coriolanus for an academic project. They appreciate the way that the changing mood of the plebian folk of Rome is brought to life beyond the printed page. At the conclusion, a lady in her 60s in the centre of the front row is clearly very excited about the performance.
I’m not sure why. The production, because of its severe editing, leaves us with a very choppy play where little flows naturally. Characters are seldom developed by their words – and words there are many in the midst of lots and lots of short, very static scenes.
Actors? Sope Dirisu as Caius Martius Coriolanus is very intense and shows that the character believes that the world revolves around him and the side which he joins should always become the right side. Director, Angus Jackson could have done more with that intensity – it is the strongest card he has in his hand. Hannah Morrish has been a very central part of this “Rome” series, present in Julius Caesar, here in Coriolanus and most memorably as the broken Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. Her problem is that in each play her role is one engulfed in sadness. Here, she is okay but you keep remembering her giant performance in Titus Andronicus and nothing here is so significant.
Haydn Gwynne is Volumnia who is in the programme described as one of the great mother figures in all of Shakespeare. Again, here, it is more as though the company and its director presume we know that and accept that Coriolanus is devoted to her. Rather if we come to this production without any prior knowledge, I would suspect that the audience might go away thinking Coriolanus was just a man who was exceptionally rude to his wife in always defaulting to greeting his mother first for no apparent reason.
Most confusing is the decision to cast the two tribunes, Sicinius Veletus and Junius Brutus to be played by female actors. Within the play as it stands in this production there is nothing to suggest that the characters as played by Jackie Morrison and Martina Laird could influence the common people into so many changes of mood and especially to reject their erstwhile hero, Caius Martius who whilst quite arrogant is so much more imposing a presence.
Tonight, James Corrigan, who I have commended in previous RSC productions (especially The Two Noble Kinsmen) is absent, indisposed. Replacing him as Tullus Aufidius, the leader of the Volscians, is Sean Hart who occasionally stumbles over his words as understudies do, but is adequate.
And that in itself really sums up this production. This final chapter of the “Rome” group of plays which Angus Jackson has grouped together is adequate. It is not dreadful like Antony and Cleopatra. It does not have the enormous strength of Julius Caesar. It does not have the great character actors (David Troughton and Hannah Morrish) of Titus Andronicus. It has lovely music and especially a great vocalist (Alexandra Ferrari) which is a little under used but most everything else is adequate, rather dull and with rather too much static acting which jumps from scene to scene. Quite, quite…. adequate.