1) There are no togas. That’s a big tick from me.
Otherwise, however good the acting, it’s hard to keep the mind off all those knobbly knees.
Tom Hiddleston. Photos by Johan Persson.
2) It's more topical than you might think. Don't believe me? Hear me out.
It's the story of a great Roman general who is so steeped in aristocratic values that he despises the new institutions of democracy and the need to seek favour from the citizens. He describes them as curs with stinking breath even as he solicits their votes. Inevitably that leads to self-destruction. The thing that kills him is not the anger of the people but his own arrogance. He’s a man used to getting what he wants and when he doesn’t, he refuses to listen or compromise. Sound familiar?
3) Of all of Shakespeare’s heroes and anti-heroes, Coriolanus is the most isolated and alone. Yet also the least self-reflective.
Is he the perfect lock-down anti-hero? It will be interesting to view the play through the context of the current situation.
4) It’s a real beast of a play but director Josie Rourke tames it with a revival that goes for swiftness, intimacy and clarity. All difficult things to achieve in a play that is epic in scale and sweep.
5) Tom Hiddleston, so brilliant in Betrayal last year, is very good too.
When he played Coriolanus in 2014 he had just been voted the world’s sexiest man. But, despite the shower scene, he’s definitely not just a pretty face. As Maxie Szalwinska wrote in the Sunday Times: “He is almost literally a golden boy: you'd swear the lighting doesn't bounce off him so much as radiate from his pores and designer stubble. Yet Hiddleston knows that, as Zsa Zsa Gabor once said, "Macho isn't mucho". He's possessed here of confidence and masculine grace without being a strutter, as well as such gobsmacking beauty that it's no surprise the plebeians gaze at him goggle-eyed, even as he insults them.”
6) Deborah Findlay is superb as the original tiger mother, Volumnia.
She is even more in love with violence than her son. “Anger’s my meat; I sup upon myself.” The Times described it as a performance of “brilliantly casual ball-breaking elegance,” and the Independent spoke of her as being like a proud mum bragging about her son’s wounds “as if they are school cups brought home to please her.”
7) None of the politicians get off lightly.
They are all dissembling devotees of double speak. It’s like Listening to Radio 4’s Today programme.
8) Mark Gatiss is excellent value for money and slyly funny as Menenius, Coriolanius’ old friend who is always trying to make things better and stop Coriolanus from taking the next step towards disaster.
9) It’s nice to see a theatre director and her production’s star not being too precious and recognizing that watching theatre on-line is a different experience than watching it with others in an auditorium and trying to bridge the gap.
Josie Rourke and Tom Hiddleston will be doing a Coriolanus Watchalong on Rourke’s Instagram on Thursday (June 4) for those who, as Rourke puts it, “to take Shakespeare’s tragedy a little less tragically.”
Josie Rourke. Photo by Chris McAndrew.
10) TS Eliot was a big fan, rating the play above Hamlet, and calling it “Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success.”
Mind you that is from a man who wrote one of the most tedious and unpleasant plays of the 20th century, The Cocktail Party.
You can watch Coriolanus here on Thu 4 Jun and it will be available for a week.