As one of the few Shakespeare plays to be banned in modern times and a large scale epic, Coriolanus is, at first glance, a questionable choice of play for the intimate, 250 capacity Donmar Warehouse. Throw in the casting of Tom Hiddleston, best known for playing lovable rogue Loki in Marvel’s Avengers universe, as the cold, opaque titular character, and the scheduling sounds even more bizarre.
Yet this production embraces these contradictions, using them to manipulate its audience and turn a controversial play into a big hit.
Tom Hiddleston gives a masterful performance as the army general and war hero Caius Martius, later surnamed Coriolanus after his greatest victory, who is brought down by the political spotlight he never pursued. Despite rarely monologuing like many of Shakespeare’s classic leads, Hiddleston’s Coriolanus leaves you in little doubt of his motives or actions. Strong and athletic, he is as utterly believable as the violent killing machine as he is the dutiful and loving son to his mother, Volumnia, beautifully portrayed by Deborah Findlay. It is in these scenes that Hiddleston reveals Martius’ vulnerability, a characteristic hard to see as he mocks his political associates and reveals his contempt for the ordinary people, as they riot in the streets.
Hiddleston’s performance is matched by equally strong performances from his surrounding cast. Alfred Enoch, best known as Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter series, continues in his impressive streak of post-Potter theatre roles as the small but notable Titus, forming a close bond with his general. Elliot Levey’s Brutus and Helen Schlesginer’s Sicinia, Coriolanus challengers, provide much of the comic relief in an otherwise intense production whilst Borgen‘s Birgitte Hjort Sorensen makes the usually extraneous character of Coriolanus’ wife feel essential, helping to humanize her soldier husband.
The production isn’t without its faults, although most of these are based in Josie Rourke’s directorial choices. The war scenes, involving ladder projections and moving chairs, seemed to lack confidence in the casts’ ability to deliver the play’s epic qualities whilst the spotlighting of certain characters when mentioned by name, assumes an ignorance on behalf of the audience. Despite not shying away from the brutality of the play – Coriolanus returns from battle covered head to toe in blood – the first conflict between the lead and his adversary, Aufidius is so overly theatre, with plenty of leaps and tumbles, it feels like a dance and there is no real sense of danger for either character.
Despite these stylistic quibbles, the Donmar’s Coriolanus is a success. It certainly won’t disappoint the hoards of audiences due to see it over the next few weeks and will hopefully assist in introducing an often marred play to a whole new audience.
Coriolanus is to be broadcast live cinemas worldwide on 30th January. To find a venue near you visit the NT Live website.
Review by Claire Furner, MuggleNet Publicity Assistant