Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse. of our most charismatic actors are currently providing their mettle in leading Shakespearean roles – David Tennant as Richard II and Jude Law as Henry V – and in the process creating a rush at the box office. The latest to join them is Tom Hiddleston who brings an ideal combination of emotional reserve and physical bravura to the role of Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse).

When an old adversary threatens Rome, the city calls once more on her hero and defender, Coriolanus. But famine threatens the city, the citizens’ hunger swells to an appetite for change, and, on returning victorious from the field, Coriolanus is forced to confront the march of realpolitik and the voice of an angry people. After being rejected by them, Coriolanus vows to destroy Rome and join forces with his enemy Aufidius to mount an attack.

Shakespeare’s tragedy is a drama of pride and selfishness centring on a man who is ill-advised to stand for a role for which he is unsuited and who is unable to conceal his contempt for the crowd. It is a play which has a particularly contemporary resonance for an audience familiar with the violent traumatic struggles for democracy around the world. However I was not impressed by director Josie Rourke’s decision to give the piece a modern twist by including blasts of electronic music, costumes that mix, Roman roles and Dr Martens’ boots, graffiti sprayed walls and the people’s tribune played by an actress.

Yet admittedly there are moments which really stand out, for example the opening scene when a small blond boy comes in stage waving a sword. The child, the son of Coriolanus, is emblematic of a society in which virility and violence are admired and instilled in everyone from infancy. Another is when Coriolanus, in all his gory glory, soaked in blood after winning a fight single-handed, takes a shower and gasps in pain as his wounds turn the water to blood.

The crowning glory of the production, however, is Tom Hiddleston’s powerhouse performance. Hiddleston focuses on the arrogance and elusive coolness of the protagonist a self-deluding impulsive loner in thrall to his domineering mother. Indeed this harsh, cruel tragedy becomes suddenly moving as Coriolanus’s mother, wife and son try to persuade him not to take revenge on a Rome that has cast him out. Hiddleston perfectly captures a sudden piercing tenderness and love, as if experiencing these emotions for the first time. Strong support is given by Deborah Findlay as his bellicose mother, Volumnia, half-glorying in her son’s bloody conquests. Borgen actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as his wife Viriglia, by turns passionate, steely and potently seductive Mark Gatiss as the wily patrician Menenius and Hadley Fraser as Aufidius, the Volscian general who becomes Coriolanus’s nemesis.

This then is a tense, thoughtful account of one man’s rapid fall from martial hero to exile and pariah, where the excellent performances compensate for the flaws in the production.

Runs until February 8 2014

Box office: 0844 871 7624

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