Friday 13 December 2013

Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse

Blood, guts, and a bit of hunky sword fighting - if you want gritty Shakespeare, get yourself down to the Donmar to see Tom Hiddleston star as Coriolanus.

Before last night I only knew Tom Hiddleston as Thor's evil brother Loki - pale, a bit weedy, and with a fierce streak of sibling rivalry. I also knew nothing about Coriolanus, except that it was a Shakespearean play about war and generals, and there had recently been a film adaptation starring Ralph Fiennes.

As whenever I go to the Donmar though, I was pretty sure I'd enjoy myself. The productions are usually of the highest standard, and we even had a bit of Hollywood glitz thrown in (a very welcome treat when you've been there as many times as I have!)

The play is based on the life of Roman general Caius Marcius Coriolanus. When Rome is threatened by war and famine, their hero is forced to step up and save the day. But after success, a power overdose, and some malicious manipulation from his rivals in government, his people rise against him, and he is forced to turn his back on those who hold him highest.

I'd built up an image of what to expect from Hiddleston's performance, but was instantly knocked back with his first steps on stage. He carried himself like a fighter and leader, and was much taller, broader and, um, "fitter" than I had previously realised. He spoke with such strength that, as a member of the audience, I was in awe and a little frightened all at the same time. As the lead character, he's really put through his paces in this role, both emotionally and physically. He did an incredible job, and deserves all those screaming girls outside the stage door (I saw this amusing meme online, but after witnessing the crowds last night, I don't disagree!)

I know I sound like a broken record, but every member of the cast was exceptional (maybe I'm just easily pleased, but I like to think I just have good taste in productions). Reading through their bios afterwards, I see there is a real mix of experienced and relatively unknown actors, but aside from recognisable faces, you wouldn't have known. They made an incredible acting body, with about half the cast even taking on multiple roles. Really, really impressive.

What also made Coriolanus so great was the staging. There are many routes that the costume department could have gone down, but apparently Roman story + Shakespearean play + 21st Century production = very nearly Steam Punk. No complaints from me! The props were simple but incredibly effective; in the main battle scene I felt all the Les-Mis-style drama and excitement with just a row of metal chairs, a ladder and the odd flare.

Well I won't spoil the ending, but by the time he was taking his final bow, Tom Hiddleston had a face full of blood, tears in his eyes, and a massive grin slapped across his face. We all leapt to our feet for him and his co-actors. What a performance! It may be tricky to get tickets for the Donmar performance, which ends on 8th February, but luckily for you, Coriolanus will also be broadcast on screen on 30th January by National Theatre Live. See their website for participating cinemas.

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