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Must-see Play Starring Sope Dirisu
Coriolanus is among the rarer of Shakespeare's plays to be performed but that may change after this new adaptation by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).
The new production of Coriolanus by the RSC
After directing Julius Caesar earlier this year, Angus Jackson moves on to Coriolanus to conclude the RSC's Rome Season. It's a tale of a great yet arrogant Roman warrior who can't transfer his skills from the battlefield into politics, and is banished from Rome due to his tactlessness and inability to pander to the public.
The problem, historically, with Coriolanus is that it's a wordy, lengthy play that could stretch to four hours but Jackson has well edited the piece to lose the repetition and keep the momentum flowing.
What is left for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon is 2 hours and 45 minutes of continuous action mixed in with emotive or often witty drama.
While the first 20 minutes or so set the scene of the mighty Caius Martius Coriolanus as a fearless soldier defending Rome and emerging gloriously covered in blood, the real impetus of this play kicks in when he returns home. This is when Coriolanus faces his biggest challenge of kowtowing to the masses, who he detests, and the real depth of Shakespeare's work comes to the fore.
Sope Dirisu is impressive in his RSC debut as Coriolanus.
Making his RSC debut in the lead role is Sope Dirisu, who until now has been seen in TV roles for 'The Casual Vacancy' and 'The Halcyon' and on stage last year in 'One Night in Miami' at Donmar Warehouse.
It doesn't take long for him to become an electrifying presence on stage, both physically and emotionally. He may be an imposing figure when emerging dripping in blood from battle, but that doesn't compare to how watchable he is when breaking down in tears of anguish at disappointing or losing his beloved mother Volumnia.
The immensely powerful mother-son relationship is key to the success of this fresh production as Jackson has positioned the all-defiant, uncompromising Coriolanus as a mummy's boy.
The arrogant antihero may not be able to hold his tongue to the world, but when his mother's in the room, he regresses back to being almost a teenage boy. The scenes between Dirisu and the stately Haydn Gwynne, as the ultimate ambitious 'tiger mother', are overflowing with emotion. Jackson has struck lucky with a dynamic chemistry between the pair.
Haydn Gwynne and Sope Dirisu play out a wonderful mother and son relationship.
The depth of character spreads much further than just Coriolanus and his mother. Corionalus' arch enemy Aufidius (an impressive James Corrigan) packs a punch too.
Corrigan makes Aufidius a believably eccentric foe whose admiration of Coriolanus' battle antics leads to the chance for a bromance between the two after the banishment from Rome. Corrigan's role may be outrageously adoring and tongue-in-cheek at times, but it works and evolves as the drama unfolds.
Set at a time in ancient Rome when the gap between rich and poor is widening, this modern-dress version of Coriolanus strikes a chord with current times.
There's class war, issues of poverty and, most notably, rabble-rousing and disinformation by the Tribunes. I couldn't help thinking of the Brexit campaign last year, especially when the mob bemoan that they were misled over Coriolanus' banishment.
The atmosphere on stage is galvanised for the marketplace scenes when noble-born Coriolanus must come face to face with the common people and the animosity of the two Tribunes. They are played refreshingly by female actresses in this version - Jackie Morrison and Martina Laird, who both give a suitably conspiring, mischievous edge to their performances.
Jackie Morrison and Martina Laird play tribunes for the public
You won't want to miss this production, but I would warn that it is only on for a limited time. It's at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in Stratford upon Avon, until 14 October before a run at The Barbican Theatre in London from 6 to 18 November. If you can't get tickets, there is a chance to see it broadcast live to cinemas on 11 October.
Coriolanus brings the successful RSC Rome season to a close on a high. It grabs not just your attention but your emotions too.
Witty, clever and heartfelt with a glorious cast, Coriolanus is a must-see.
Running time: 2 hrs 45 mins 20 mins interval
IN CINEMAS BROADCAST LIVE ON 11 OCT 2017
ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE
UNTIL 14 OCT 2017