Amazing Modernization of Coriolanus
Note: Extended to November 3.
Stratford Festival is making Shakespeare “woke”. If the goal of a Shakespearean festival is to get young people interested in the Bard, this production of Coriolanus should do it, if anything will. (Just to get all my readers woke – it means to suddenly become understanding and aware of something you previously dismissed or ignored. In other words, you woke up and changed your beliefs.) So if people think a Shakespearean play has to be boring, they must see this Coriolanus.
Caius Martius leads the Roman army into battle against its enemy, the Volscians. He is successful in battle taking the city of Corioles. He returns home a hero and is given the name Coriolanus for his victory. But his triumph goes to his head and he becomes insufferably arrogant. He friends and his pushy mother convince him to run for office, but very quickly the common people are repulsed by his haughtiness and conceit. Brutus and Sicinius turn against him, and when he speaks of his disdain for the common folk, they have him exiled for treason. So Coriolanus goes to his enemy Aufidius, leader of the Volscians, joins his army and prepares to do battle with Rome. His old friend Menenius entreats him not to attack Rome, but Coriolanus sends him away. However, when his overbearing mother, along with his wife and son, begs him to reconsider, he finally agrees. Aufidius and his men are angry and when everyone is combative, Coriolanus is killed by a Volscian.
It’s a great plot – his hubris is his undoing. But what makes this production of Coriolanus so outstanding is the presentation. You aren’t sure if you are in a movie or live theatre at first. All the backgrounds are projections, and they are truly amazing. The scenes are so authentic, that you have to really look at them to see if they are three dimensional or a projection. The stage is stunning in the way it stretches to look like a wide movie screen, then shrinks like the aperture of a camera lens to focus on just one character.
The plot is modernized to include a radio talk show, news coming from a TV in a bar, text messages between two characters visible on a big screen, and a car travelling across country taking Coriolanus into exile. The backgrounds are an interesting mix of old ruins and more modern office buildings
Casting is perfect. André Sills is brilliant as the quick-tempered, self-important Coriolanus. I wonder if Sills had created Coriolanus suffering from PTSD: he grows angry so quickly, he seems possessed. Lucy Peacock commands the stage as his overbearing mother Volumnia. Peacock demonstrates how ridiculous Volumnia’s demands can be, but without the character becoming laughable. She has the ability to exaggerate the role, without going over the top. Tom McCamus creates a realistic political handler in his characterization of Menenius. The two Tribunes intent on bringing Coriolanus down are Stephen Ouimette as Brutus and Tom Rooney as Sicinius. They are recognizable as today’s backroom politicians, sitting in the bar while plotting their verbal attacks. These powerful actors are surrounded by commanding secondary characters and an equally strong ensemble.
I am always mesmerized by the way that the top Stratford actors can speak in Shakespearean English, and be perfectly understood. It is a special skill that only the best possess, and the best are in this show.
This Coriolanus is a standout. The modernization of it is not a gimmick or a forced change, as some in the past have been. I’ve also seen Shakespeare in modern costumes, but with no other set changes. This production has been firmly brought into 2018. The topic of deadly hubris is more relevant than ever, it works so well. The only problem is that I was in awe of the presentation, rather than focusing on the story.
Coriolanus continues in repertory until October 28 (extended to Nov. 3) at the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Lucy Peacock as Volumnia and André Sills as Coriolanus in Coriolanus. Photo by David Hou.
By William Shakespeare
Director and Set Designer Robert Lepage
Performed by André Sills, Lucy Peacock, Graham Abbey, Michael Blake, Alexis Gordon, Tom McCamus, Stephen Ouimette, Tom Rooney, Brigit Wilson, et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Avon Theatre, Stratford
July 1 to October 20, 2018 Note: Extended to Nov. 3.
Reviewed by Mary Alderson