Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: Coriolanus (RSC)

On Wednesday last, a small group from the college went to the local movie theater to watch a live broadcast of the RSC's Coriolanus from Stratford-upon-Avon.

I hesitated about going because Coriolanus isn't in my top 25 Shakespeare plays, and I've had a cold and sore back and am busy.  But finally I decided to go since I've never seen it before and live theater's not that easy for me to get to, even in a movie theater.

I think the RSC is doing all the Roman plays this year, so Coriolanus came along for the ride.  And for the most part, the production felt like it.  Workmanlike.  It got the job done.  Overall, the first three Acts could have been a step faster all through.

But I want more out of theater.  I want to be challenged to think (or rethink) things.  I want to be excited, or saddened, to be reached at an emotional level or an intellectual level.    And this production didn't do that for me.  The actors were fine in their parts, but no one struck me as especially good.

The Roman plays are all political, and this one happened in modern dress, which seems more effective than togas these days.

I'm not quite sure what I want from a filmed version of a staged play.  I found the camera work (changing points of view, changing distance, and so on) a bit distracting.  When I watch a play, I sometimes find myself watching side action, and I couldn't do that often with this camera work.

I did think the casting of two women actors to play the Tribunes, Martina Laird as Junius Brutus and Jackie Morrison as Sicinius Veletus, was interesting because the rather tall and athletically built men really felt threatening when they loomed over the Tribunes.  And Menenius seemed to be mansplaining in ways I don't think I've felt before when I thought of the Tribunes as male characters.  The effect for me was to make me identify even more closely with the Tribunes than otherwise.

I remember first studying Coriolanus in a course and talking extensively about same sex desire, so I expected to see a real sense of that on stage.  In Act 4, scene 5, the scene where Coriolanus goes to Aufidius to join with him, when Aufidius says,

                            Know thou first,
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sigh'd truer breath; but that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold. Why, thou Mars! I tell thee,
We have a power on foot; and I had purpose
Once more to hew thy target from thy brawn,
Or lose mine arm fort: thou hast beat me out
Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters 'twixt thyself and me;
We have been down together in my sleep,
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat,
And waked half dead with nothing. (Source)

it's nigh impossible to miss the homoerotic aspects.  But in the RSC's production, Aufidius was more smirking than convincing, more like a teenager showing off a bit rather than a man who's had dreams.  And that was that.  The play didn't take Aufidius's dreams or desires to heart, didn't give them a Greco-Roman context of homoerotics between soldiers.  It just sort of sat there and then was over.  (I'm sure the actor did as directed, and could have done the part very differently if so directed.)

All in all, then, I was disappointed.  I want so much more out of plays than I got from this production.  Is it me?  the play?  or the production?


  1. I’ve never liked this play, but I’m playing to see the broadcast when it shows in my town. After that, I will have seen all the RSC Roman plays this year — two in Stratford and Titus in broadcast. Titus wasn’t very good either but Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra were worth seeing. Both were JC and AC were in togas and they worked well, especially JC. I wrote a joint review of them, having seen them both on the same day. It will be published in Early Modern Culture next year. Anyway, I’m wondering if Coriolanus will be decent in context with the other three shows? I’ll probably try to write something about all four of them after Coriolanus. In my view, JC is the best of all four of these plays and has the most resonance with today’s politics. But taking them as a whole might have something to teach me. We’ll see.

  2. Coriolanus is just so... there's a reason it's not done often.