Those of you that have followed me know it is no small secret that I, like many others, had a strong desire to see Tom Hiddleston do theatre – and if I could be really specific, a Shakespeare production! Should’ve seen my face when they announced Tom was doing Coriolanus. Thank you Tom, Josie Rourke & Donmar! I won’t go into the stress involved in acquiring tickets, you’ve either been there too or still going through it. Am really thankful for being one of the lucky ones able to go and see it, and hope this blog might share some of the excitement and experience.
I’ve never studied Coriolanus and beyond watching Ralph Fiennes’ fantastic film and a plethora of iconic quotes via #ShakespeareSunday (see @HollowCrownFans) & @twhiddleston on Twitter knew not much beyond the basic outline. It is down to personal choice on if you prefer to read the text before seeing the production or not, I’ve seen people recommend both sides. I like seeing a new play from ‘cold’, experience the magic of it like a newly released blockbuster. Doesn’t work for everyone but I always have fond memories of my first Richard II, Henry IV and Romeo & Juliet etc. Just really to say my comments and observations are not from someone who knows the text inside out… leave that for the next review! ;-)
I knew the Donmar would be small but nothing really prepares you for the first time walking inside the auditorium and seeing the stage really is within spitting distance from every seat! I was up in the circle, row B, and the view was fantastic! The stage was empty except for a single black ladder at the back, leading up to the roof, curiouser and curiouser! Suddenly a child runs on and paints a red box on the white floor of the stage, and this will be used to mark it as a ‘room’ when and where needed it turns out. Most of the cast sit on black chairs, in a row along the back of the stage either side of the ladder. Very clever use was made of the chairs, sometimes used as props or to mark a room in addition to be sat upon by actors waiting for their scenes. Tom arrives on stage after everyone else at the start of the play, and I must apologise for my poor memory but cannot give more details about stage direction beyond that he stood between the two lines of chairs behind the ladder. His costume was great! I knew hoping for togas was a long shot (wink) and wondered where they might go with the overall look. Tom wore tight-fitting black trousers, boots and over a natural coloured top a leather breastplate. Hanging from his belt was a sword. Basically he looked like a classic bard bad-ass ready to kick some dissentious butt! “Hail, noble Marcius!”
One of the main things that stood out for me in this production was the unexpected humour. This is where the magic of actors bringing a text to life comes in. Written down you can see the beauty of Shakespeare’s words but not always appreciate what is there until interpreted. It may sound bizarre to say there will be moments to make you laugh but there are! Especially memorable to me was Tom in the scene where Coriolanus is asking the citizens for their voices to be consul, “for your voices I have fought” – his delivery as well as the physical interpretation and facial expressions were very entertaining. I don’t know if it is assumed you should be shocked at Coriolanus’ attitude but I couldn’t help but sympathise slightly he had to go through that ordeal (in nothing but a white sheet/robe too!) and laugh at his honest cheek. Peter De Jersey as Cominius was a delight, not just because I was thrilled to have another Hollow Crown cast member on stage but he gave much weight and authority to the role. You needed someone with a ‘strength’ of character and physical presence to match Tom and for me Peter was that fit. Loved the whole ‘brother in arms’ soldier-type bond their characters had. I’ll be listing the whole Donmar cast here completely to single any more names out because they were all well-matched to their roles. Am glad they gave some of the male roles to women because it would have felt very male dominated otherwise, and the play wasn’t damaged for this alteration. In fact I loved Elliot Levey as Brutus with Helen Schlesinger as Sicinia (a male role in the play), such a double-act. At the interval I wanted to burst out spontaneously with “What is the city but the people?” so inspired by Helen’s delivery of that line! Don’t worry, I didn’t… waited until after the show and out of earshot of Donmar on a poor unsuspecting friend.
To match someone to go against Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus for the role of Aufidius must’ve been quite a task, and Hadley Fraser owned that role! I loved his northern accent & physical demeanour that made obvious the differences between Audifius and Coriolanus. The sword fight between them at the start of the play was mesmerising, you really felt they were ‘to the death’! At one point Hadley flips Tom over his shoulder which made me gasp with surprise (and an internal cry of ‘mind his back’ lol)! It was awesome. They get very hands-on by the end of this confrontation when both swords are lost, ending up with Tom’s hand around Hadley’s neck, who is flat on his back unable to free himself from the grasp. There are a few moments in the play, such as this, where I see what Ralph Fiennes is talking about with homoeroticism in the play. That and the couple of kisses Hadley and Tom share later on, yes – I know! Shakespeare is sexy. Talking of which, it is after the fight that the (now famous) shower scene occurs. I was so worried that Tom had actually hurt his left arm in said fight I really didn’t appreciate the view, as is assumed we fangirls must. He was THAT convincing with the injury, there were tears in his eyes and with lines such as “By Jupiter! Forgot. I am weary; yea, my memory is tired” was half wondering if that was actually adlibbing! Sorry Tom, see it as a major compliment on your acting ability that my party and I were still half debating if you were actually physically hurt during the interval. It was a very nice view dear reader but it isn’t news that Mr Hiddleston is a rather beautiful man in every sense. I have seen some people comment that this scene was put in just for the fangirls (heck we’d be happy to take some of the credit were it true, you’re welcome audience!) but I saw it as maybe showing the audience that Coriolanus is just a man. The water washing away the blood and sweat of battle to show the naked and hurt man behind the name and image. Again, this is personal interpretation! I won’t tell others what to think, that is the joy of opinions and discussions, just hope I may be reading along the lines they wanted us to! Or I have completely missed the point. Note for those ending up in the front row seats facing stage head on, you may get wet shoes when they sweep the water off the stage after as the drain runs along the front of the stage! Nothing major, amused those that were there the night I went. Before I forget must add that the music in the production is very modern, reminded me almost along the lines of the music from The National Theatre’s Frankenstein production. I didn’t love it but it was different and did the job, helping move from scene to scene. I really hope Donmar might do an audio CD like they did for Othello!
Really don’t want this to be a blow-by-blow account of the play, other people with better memory will do that elsewhere am sure! I can but leap to the bit of the play near the end that broke my heart. The scene where Volumnia succeeds in dissuading her son, Coriolanus, from destroying Rome and instead he concludes a peace treaty between the Volscians and the Romans. An extended awkward silence after Volumnia’s plea followed by “O mother, mother! What have you done?” just tore at me! I knew what was coming and could all but cover my mouth with my hands in the dreaded anticipation, tears brimming with the emotions that rush through watching it first-hand. The inevitable death scene following soon after was brutal, horrific and brilliant. Tom is basically strung up by his ankles and Hadley kills him with a sword, blood gushing onto the stage floor. I did not like it at all, which means they did a great job! Be worried if I enjoyed the death scene in that sense, power of theatre!
Now to end this with a final word on the man himself, Coriolanus, Tom Hiddleston. He truly was phenomenal. From the first moment Tom stepped out on stage he didn’t stop, even standing still you could tell he was 100% in the moment. Was such a privilege to see him acting live! The emotions he goes through himself, let alone us in the audience, must be exhausting mentally as well as the obvious physical work-out. I was thrilled to the teeth hearing him utter “Now put your shields before your hearts, and fight With hearts more proof than shields” in person and in context of the whole play. So many beautiful and iconic quotes in Coriolanus and must thank Tom for bringing it to my attention where I might not have studied it in such depth. I loved seeing him in a role where the character isn’t likeable, deliciously conflicting in how his character makes you feel over the course of the play. Talented is an understatement.
I encourage you to see this show via National Theatre Live next year, really isn’t to be missed!
“There is a world elsewhere” and it’s at the Donmar Warehouse!