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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Coriolanus - or the death march for my calm professional blogging tone (okay, I know that was a stretch anyway ;))

First of all a moment of silence for my dignity, because after you've read this you're all going to know I'm a sqeeing fangirl of the first order :). Pictures are courtesy of the Donmar website.

So, yesterday I was in London with my sister and my hubby to see Coriolanus, and wow and once again I say wow!

Now before you tell me I only went to see it because Tom Hiddleston was in it I would defend myself and say I love Shakespeare and this is a play I have never seen or studied. Also I would counter with, yep, and that's a very good reason to see any play he's in, especially Shakespeare, because the man is a genius on stage :D.

There was one disappointment, but it wasn't with the play. I went to Forbidden Planet hoping to find some Loki merchandise I can't usually lay my hands on, and they had nothing - not a one. When asked the customer services lass said they do get stuff in, but it sells immediately. Now, personally, if I had been them and I knew my shop was less than 2 mins walk from Tom Hiddleston central (I kid you not, it's across a road, up a street and round a corner to the Donmar), I'd have built a Loki shrine in the corner of my shop for the duration and watched the pound signs tick up. They had three shelves of Thor and if I'd been able to get a Loki I probably would have bought one of those too!

But enough of that, on to the actual play.

First of all, I love the Donmar - it's cosy. The bench style seats are also roomy - there were several of us on our row of twelve who were, shall we say, not the smallest of lasses and we all had plenty of room. The depth of the seats is slightly less good, but it was much more comfortable than the Trafalgar Studios. The staff are absolutely lovely as well and kudos to them for being able to deal with the craziness surrounding Tom.

Secondly, thank you god for the most amazing seats. We were in the circle at the top in the back, but that makes no difference; the view is unbelievable, especially since two vital parts of the play were played right into our corner. I was able to stare into Tom Hiddleston's eye not once, but twice ... oops, there I go again, please forgive the metaphorical squeeing. I'm still trying to work out how the man can act and convey such amazing emotion without actually moving.

Thirdly I would like to pile gifts and awards on the costume designer. Leather and tight jeans - oh my word; those jeans left nothing to the imagination. Let me be base for a moment, wow, were there some nice backsides on display and I'll stop there.

The staging is minimalist to say the least; they have a ladder and some chairs and occasionally members of the cast paint things on the floor or the back wall. That's it. The chairs were genius. They were used as seats in the senate, casual chairs, a war throne and even battle lines. They helped change scenes along with the magnificent music that was perfectly judged.

There were three people who stood out for me as being above excellent: Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus; Deborah Findlay as Volumnia; Mark Gatiss as Menenius. Don't get me wrong, the whole cast were good, none of them let the production down, but those three were astonishingly brilliant.

Tom is amazing enough on screen, but on stage he is mesmerising. The man oozes presence and delivers Shakespearean lines like they're modern English so it doesn't matter if the phrases are unfamiliar, you know exactly what he's talking about. He is sex on legs; there I said it, but I'm pretty sure there were people in the audience who didn't fancy him and were still gobsmacked. It would be very easy to dislike Coriolanus because he is a snob who cares nothing for the common people, but he also has honour, courage and nobility. The way Tom plays him, he has layers and he remained the hero for me, the very flawed hero all the way through. The moments of mummy's boy that made the whole audience laugh were also superb and brilliant.

Speaking of mummy, Derborah Findlay was stunning. By the time the production was barely a third of the way through it was obvious who Coriolanus' problem was. Volumnia created her son in the image she wanted when he was very young and then never stopped. Only she can manipulate him and in trying to build him up she is the one who ultimately pulls him down and Deborah plays her beautifully.

She's not domineering all the time. She's always strong, but sometimes she cajoling, her voice soft. Then the next minute she roars like a lioness and Coriolanus melts before her and promises to do whatever she tells him. A magnificent performance.
Mark Gatiss is also fantastic. He goes from confident, funny man, to desperate, empty and depressed and it is a stunning performance.

Menenius is the middle ground character, the negotiator and the way he despairs at Coriolanus even as he understands him is superb. Every scene Mark was in was lifted by his presence and he speaks Shakespeare as well as Tom.

We were discussing it in the car on the way home and what stood out about these three to us is how they seemed to understand everything about their characters. They knew them intimately and so could give us, the audience, all the subtlety and flaws of real human beings with real motivations. Simply brilliant.

Coriolanus is a political tragedy. It could have been the most deadly play imaginable, but this production made it the most exciting. There are sword fights and blood, but that wasn't what made it so entertaining; that was totally on the actors. Long speeches were delivered with such skill that I was hanging off every word and body language was used with such perfection that the whole stage came to light.

The most harrowing part was not the death scene or the fall from grace, but the pleas of Volumnia to her son as he waited to sack Rome. Deborah Findlay had all the words and Tom Hiddleston stood in one corner with his back to her and his face to us and it was the most amazing scene. It would have been so easy for one to steal the scene from the other and yet they didn't. It was impossible to know who to watch. Deborah moved around the stage using some of the other actors as her puppets and Tom barely moved and yet they balanced. Deborah was all desperate emotion on display and Tom was all internal, barely controlled pain and it was awesome.

My favourite Shakespeare play has always been Macbeth, but if every production of Coriolanus was like this one I'd have to change my mind. We're seriously considering going to the NT Live version on the 30th now as well, it was that good.

I wish we had been able to stay and try and get autographs, but it just wasn't possible. My feet were wrecked thanks to a taxi driver who dropped us off at the wrong end of Shaftesbury avenue when we asked him to take us to Forbidden Planet, it was just starting to rain and we had to get back to our car and then drive all the way home. I hope the brave ones who stayed got the autographs they wanted.

So, yes, it was brilliant and I will leave you with one part that ticked every box I have and there wasn't even any dialogue :D. What more could a fangirl ask when the production even gives us hurt/comfort?

4 comments:

  1. I appreciate your discussion of Volumnia, and of the staging between her and Coriolanus during that crucial scene. I am looking forward to seeing this here in Seattle via NTLive (bless them!)

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    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. We've just booked for NTLive too so we can take our parents to see it.

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  2. Thank you very much for this Tasha! Very well written.I couldn't say it any better.
    We were at Donmar on the 10th and were just shocked and overwelmed by the performance of the whole cast but Tom Hiddleston, Mark Getiss and Derborah Findlay were the three who stood out of the others at least for me too.
    Booked my ticket for NTLive as the show it also in Germany.

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    1. It really is an amazing production isn't it :). I can't wait for the 30th to see it again, even if it is in the cinema.

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