Coriolanus, directed by David Farr, at The Dukeries, Ollerton and on tour, Wednesday March 19th 2003; this production first performed Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, November 2002.
Sheffield Hallam University
Wilkinson, Katherine. ""Coriolanus, directed by David Farr, at The Dukeries, Ollerton." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 20.1-6 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-1/coriorev.html>.
The Royal Shakespeare Company on tour at The Dukeries, Ollerton,
and at other venues. Directed by David Farr. Caius Martius/Coriolanus Greg Hicks;
Volumnia Alison Fiske; Virgilia Hannah Young; Valeria Claire Carrie; Gentlewoman
Kate Best; Menenius Richard Cordery; Cominius David Killick; Titus Lartius Kieron
Jecchinis; First Senator Patrick Romer; Sicinius Velutus Tom Mannion; Junius
Brutus Simon Coates; First Citizen Lindsey Fawcett; Citizens Kate Best, Claire
Carrie, Richard Copestake, Michael Gardiner, Adam Kay, Ciaran McIntyre, Karl
Morgan, Jame O'Donnell, Patrick Romer, Lucy Tregear; Officers in the Senate
Karl Morgan, James O'Donnell; Herald Adam Kay; Tullus Aufidius Chuk Iwuji; First
Senator Michael Gardiner; Second Senator Ciaran McIntyre; Lieutenant Karl Morgan;
Watch Richard Copestake, Kieron Jecchinis; Servingmen Adam Kay, Karl Morgan,
It is the deep red of the empty thrust stage that greets the audience as they enter the Royal Shakespeare Company's mobile auditorium for this production of Coriolanus on tour. And it is red that characterises the production; the opening scene featuring various hungry plebeians waving scythes and axes in a revolutionary manner encourages comparison with the 1917 Red Russian Revolution, and Greg Hicks as Caius Martius spends a large amount of the first act with his torso, arms and face daubed with very red blood. The revolutionary is an ever-present backdrop to this production; the war with the Volscians is to prevent the corn revolution and the plebeians are incited to revolution by the tribunes after the battle. The tribunes are a particularly slimy aspect of this production, from Tom Mannion's greasy hair to the self-satisfaction obvious in the characters after Coriolanus has left and they sit drinking espresso in a setting rather reminiscent of a French café. The tribunes and their plotting are very much to blame for what happens to Coriolanus. The scenes in which they describe the character are said while Hicks poses on the stage and they talk as if referring to a portrait of the character.
This production draws on various cultures for its setting; the plebeians are Russian, surprisingly similar to the Volscians who wear blue and fur but also use the Japanese style of costume for their warriors. The Japanese style overwhelms the setting and flavour of the Romans. This is also communicated through costume as the stage remains bare throughout as props such as the café table or seats are rather non-descript and brought on and off as is necessary. The Japanese motif informs the action also as the battle is performed with samurai swords and there is a real sense of the discipline associated with the martial arts. In this manner, using the Japanese theme, war becomes art, a thing of beauty. This is emphasised by the fight choreography, which turns the chaos of battle into a dance with pairs moving around the stage in a circle, opponents responding to their partner's movements. This has the effect of showing Coriolanus in his element and the strength of the visual image and his bloodied body offers a contrast to the uncertainty displayed in his character later.
Greg Hicks gives a very accomplished performance as Coriolanus. He is performed as a character of contrasts. The arrogance is masterful as Hicks struts, peacock like, around the stage, posing and displaying his wounded body. This performance is also very humorous in both Coriolanus's arrogance and uncertainty. The manner in which, in battle, he mocks Aufidius by dodging and goading him is as funny as the manner in which he pulls at the humility robe and waves his hat while mocking the plebs. His actions are like those of a young boy being forced to do something that he really does not want to and although at times this is endearing, it does become slightly irritating.
The women in this production, despite having very few scenes (this is very much a boys-together production), make a strong impact for good and bad reasons. Voluminia is played with great dignity by Alison Fiske as she sends her son to war and begs him to retreat. Volumnia is a deeply angry character and it is through the anger that she has her son's love and her own dignity. As she, the wife and son approach Coriolanus she describes how their life has been affected since he left Rome; this is cleverly worked into the costumes that are ripped and torn at the hems, but it is such a slight alteration that you really could miss it. Virgilia (played by Hannah Young) is the antithesis of Volumnia as she spends the majority of the production moaning and crying, indeed, she spends so much of the production crying that it and the character seem to have no function other than to irritate. The lady Valeria, seems also to have little function within the play. However, she is played as such a little fusspot and gossip that she injects the women's scenes with a lot of humour. The other character who injects a lot of humour into the production is Menenius, played brilliantly by Richard Cordery. He presents the character as a wise, warm and generally likeable fellow not asking much out of life. It is all the more sad then as this character is seen to dissolve into drunkenness as Coriolanus rejects him, that moment being perhaps one of the most moving of the production with Cordery perfectly playing the bewilderment and quiet disbelief that the man he views as a son so publicly denies him access.
The relationships that Coriolanus has are portrayed as central to the understanding of this character in this production. However, these relationships are not entirely normal. Coriolanus is seen to have a better, almost marital, relationship with his mother than he does with his wife, whom for much of the time he ignores, and his relationship with Aufidius reveals a homoerotic element in the play. As Coriolanus kneels to beg for help from Aufidius, played by Chuk Iwuji, Aufidius cradles his head and embraces Coriolanus as the audience would expect to see lovers embrace. This intimacy makes the end of the production very confusing, as Aufidius' murder of Coriolanus seems to come from nowhere, especially as his rage is so powerful that he rips out Coriolanus' heart - something quite gory that does not appear in the stage directions. This emphasises the anger and perhaps the love that Aufidius has for Coriolanus as he holds the man's heart, the very essence of the character, in his hands. It is interesting that in this production Aufidius does not beat Coriolanus fairly but only after Coriolanus has been shot in the back twice; thus Coriolanus dies with the superior nature of his combat skills intact and the audience leaves still respecting him fittingly enough having to walk past the empty stage where Coriolanus' heart and sword lie.
- This is a moving and involving production. The characters are often in the audience, standing on the auditorium steps, and this draws the members of the audience into the production. In parts this is a brilliant production, played very strongly by the actors most notably Greg Hicks; however, this is a very long production--this performance was three and a half hours--and by the end I found I was getting rather restless in my not particularly comfortable chair.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).