This post is dedicated to my friend, Tomoenuru
, who asked if I would share my experience of seeing the NT Live showing of Coriolanus. She has been in South Korea for the last several years teaching English, and will not get the chance to see the production.
Before I get started, I have to say that it's really hard to find words that can accurately describe my feelings, without using cliched words like powerful, fantastic, amazing. The play was just awesome in every sense of the word. After it was over, all I could think was "Wow."
As I mentioned before, my husband teased me about going to Denver, which is several hours away, to see a recording of the play. However, the quality of the filming was excellent and after the first minutes of the play I kind of got lost into the production, and stopped noticing that it was on film. The illusion of actually being there may have taken over because the Donmar Warehouse is tiny and the stage is small so the filming was up close and personal.
The staging was bare and minimalist, and the actors stayed on the stage for much of the production, sitting on black chairs at the back of the stage. This allowed for some interesting placement of the actors in relation to each other, although I'm not sure if it was on purpose or not. Modern (and cool!) music was used during some of the scene transitions which gave me the sense of the play being current (not several hundred years old), and evoked a kind of wild, battle-ready feeling. (I know that sounds weird, but it's the best I can do. Like I said, really hard to describe my feelings.) I really liked the set up, and think Josie Rourke should get huge props for a very creative and engaging staging.
The acting was top-notch, from all actors. I enjoyed the banter between Menenius (Mark Gatiss) and the tribunes and people of Rome. The humor in the play was lost in the Ralph Fiennes version, which is too bad, because it really does make the play more enjoyable.
The range of emotion that Tom Hiddleston, as Caius Martius Coriolanus, portrayed was absolutely astounding. One of my favorite moments was early on where Martius walks forward out of the waiting area at the back of the stage (within the battle scenes, I just can't say for sure when) and the expression on his face was so menacing it honestly gave me goosebumps. Then, at the end, the tender, tragic, tear-filled scenes where he capitulates to his mother's request to spare Rome (which sentences him to death) and says good-bye to his family, is heartbreaking. I was doing all right until he said goodbye to his son, and then I had some of my own tears. In this production, Coriolanus was very human - strong, fierce, tender, broken, and then ultimately destroyed by his mother's ambitions for him and for herself. Very, very sad and it wouldn't have been nearly as evocative if Tom Hiddleston wasn't the strong, expressive actor he is.
So, I despise Volumnia (mom). I don't know why his family didn't just leave Rome when they knew he was coming to destroy it, instead of forcing him into a no-win situation. I'm guessing it has to do with his mother's ambitions. She ended up the hero, and her son ended up dead. Earlier in the play she says a line about how if Martius had died in battle that the good report would be her son. She got her wish.
I recently read a discussion about if the Tom Hiddleston fans were taking away from the Shakespeare fans - as if you have to be some literary snob to enjoy Shakespeare. In my mind, Shakespeare was one of the first genre writers. He did it all - Romantic Comedy, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and more. He wrote for and appealed to the people - all people.
The argument regarding the supremacy of literary or genre fiction continues on today. The thing is, with Shakespeare, you get the best of both. The characters are very human, their difficulties very applicable to today's struggles. Coriolanus was an astounding production, with excellent action, very human characters and strong plot.
I really feel, as did the people I went with, that we saw something that is really rare and were lucky to view. I'm sure being there would have been so much more amazing, but it was fantastic none-the-less.