Friday, 31 January 2014


Last night, the cinema in Hay was linked up to a live feed from the Donmar warehouse in London for a performance of Coriolanus. I treated myself to a ticket, because the star is Tom Hiddleston, who has appeared as Loki in the Thor and Avenger films. He also played Henry V in the recent BBC Hollow Crown series, so he's no stranger to Shakespeare.
It's a play I didn't know at all, other than it's one that is set in Rome, and I deliberately didn't read the play beforehand so I would come to it fresh.
The nice thing about the National Theatre special performances is that you get some short interviews before the play starts, which gives a bit of background to the characters and the venue (an old banana ripening warehouse). Coriolanus is described as a good soldier and a terrible politician (which leads to his downfall). They had deliberately stripped the play down to the bare minimum in the way of sets - a bare stage with a few painted lines, and a ladder. The costumes were also very basic, so you really had to concentrate on the words.
I was concentrating so much I couldn't take my eyes off the screen to pour the last of my beer from the bottle into the glass for the entire first half, and at the interval I had no idea what was going to happen next. Then events led to what was really an inevitable, terrible, conclusion - I'd kind of guessed that it wasn't going to end well for Coriolanus.
One bonus for me was that the part of Coriolanus' friend was played by Mark Gatiss, most recently seen as Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock. He also writes for Doctor Who.
Apart from those two, the real stand out performance for me was Coriolanus' mother. What a scary woman, glorying in her son's martial prowess and clearly being the most important woman in his life! Deborah Findlay was brilliant in the role.
The other thing I noticed was how many members of the cast got to snog Tom Hiddleston - even his arch enemy at one point! It was nice to see so many black members of the cast, too, and parts like one of the people's tribunes being played by a woman - and the male people's tribune did a good job of appearing extremely untrustworthy.
I wouldn't say that Coriolanus has become a favourite Shakespeare play - there's far too much blood in it for that - but I'd certainly go and see it again, and now I'm going to read the play to get the full flavour of the lines.

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