By William Shakespeare
Performed by Colm Feore, Martha Henry, Paul Soles, and company
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Stratford Festival Theatre
May 6 – September 23, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Hubris brought to life, and death
Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is a study in hubris, which causes both the title character’s great success and his ultimate failure. Stratford actor Colm Feore plays the part well, making Coriolanus’ excessive pride believable. The same pride that gives the character the self-confidence to win in battle also gives him the arrogance that causes his downfall.
Colm Feore knows how to portray arrogance. He did it very well in the made-for-TV movie Trudeau, capably depicting Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s “just watch me” attitude. He showed similar cockiness when he stole the show playing Henry Higgins in Stratford’s My Fair Lady several seasons ago. Again, he is commanding the stage as Coriolanus and his performance makes the evening worthwhile.
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s later works, which is perhaps why it is not difficult to follow the Elizabethan English. By the time Shakespeare wrote this tragedy, he had abandoned his poetic rhythm and rhyme and had a adopted a more realistic tone to the dialogue. By comparison with other Shakespearean works, it is relatively easy to understand the discourse and follow the plot line.
Caius Martius returns victorious to Rome, having defeated the Volscians in battle. Because he has conquered the city of Corioli, he is renamed Coriolanus. He basks in the praises of his victory, enjoying the cheering crowds. But while he professes to be looking out for the common people in those crowds, he actually feels nothing but disdain for them. Eventually, his haughtiness shows, and he is banished from Rome for his arrogance. Ultimately, his excessive conceit leads to his death.
The story withstands time – an arrogant leader who forgets the common folk is always recognizable. In this case, we can see where he gets his hubris. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Martha Henry is excellent as Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia, herself a proud, haughty woman who raised her son to be self-important.
Former CBC-TV host Paul Soles is very good as Menenius, the wise elder who tries to temper Coriolanus’ arrogance. Soles has a natural style of acting, with the Shakespearean language flowing easily off his tongue. Also refreshing is Keira Loughran as Valeria, whose effortless manner modernizes the role.
The fight scenes are well choreographed, as Coriolanus goes into battle swinging a sword in each hand, and coming out covered in blood. Costumes are interesting: rather than a sea of bland white togas, there are various styles of robes and tunics, some even colourful. The set also includes interesting use of fire – going into details would give away too much.
If you’d like to become re-acquainted with Shakespeare, and you enjoy a good battle scene, go see Coriolanus. It has an engaging plot, without any confusing side stories. This production moves along quickly, with very rapid scene changes, and fast-paced dialogue. Colm Feore and Martha Henry make it an enriching evening; the audience is emotionally drained along with them at the end of the show,
Coriolanus continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until September 23. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordfestival.ca.