17 February 2014

NT Live/Donmar Warehouse production of "Coriolanus" starring Tom Hiddleston

I managed to score tickets to see the rebroadcast of Shakespeare's Coriolanus from the stage of the Donmar Warehouse Theater in London England. I love modern technology -- transmitted worldwide and starring the amazing #Tom Hiddleston. I waited a month to see this production and the day finally arrived.

I have gone through so many emotions in the last 24 hours, after seeing the production. It took me some time to be able to sort through my feelings, find the words to describe what I saw. Bear with me while I share that with you....

I know what I expected. I know what I saw. And I know that I walked out of that theater feeling as if I'd been wrung out and hung up to dry. The energy on the screen was electric and intense. It didn't let go from the moment the play began until the moment it ended. It was as tightly wound as the high E string on a guitar and in places very disturbing -- especially that ending.

If you know nothing about the play other than it was written by William Shakespeare, then you need to go right now and read the synopsis on Wikipedia. Because a lot of this won't make much sense if you don't. Go on, I'll wait. I have to compose my thoughts anyway.

The most fascinating part of the entire production was the minimalist staging. The only props or set pieces were the chairs brought on and off or the pedestal, used to represent the various "places" within the play -- the Senate, his home, etc. Occasionally, cast members would paint squares or "boxes" for the staging area. The large red was where much of the main action took place (still working that one out, really) but at one point, a small black box was painted on the stage. That one was easier to understand -- the box in which Caus Martius had been painted against his will, by his own machinations or by those of others. Trapped and claustrophobic, it is his platform and his jail.

The brick wall behind the cast was painted with various graffiti that raised political issues and at the same time seemed to be the voice of the people in their fickle praise and then condemnation of Caius
Martius (Coriolanus).

The Donmar Warehouse Theater as we found out was once an actual banana ripening warehouse. The theater is very intimate -- 251 seats and done in what's called "three quarter thrust", which means that the audience surrounds the stage on three sides. Most theaters are done in what's called "proscenium staging", meaning that the stage is separated from the house and the seating is only on one side. And of course, there's also "theater in the round", where the audience is seated on all four sides. With three quarter thrust and in the round, there are no bad seats. Ever. Makes for a more realistic setting and acting style.

I'm going to start with the rest of the cast.They truly deserve their props for the support they gave the principals and their leading man.

Mark Gatiss (Mycroft in Sherlock) was the only other person I knew in that cast. But I promise you that every single one was brilliant. The small supplemental cast carried on all of the various supporting roles of senators and publicans alike. Their energy was unbelievable -- each played differing characters with differing personalities. But they kept the pace going, keeping that intensity level so high that it was palpable.

Gatiss plays the roll of Menenius -- a rather toadying sort but he is one of
Martius' closest friends. He is full of his own self-importance, thinking himself to be Martius' guiding light and voice of the people. He is one of those who push Martius into becoming a Consul -- a role that Martius is clearly not suited for. Why? I'll discuss that when I discuss Mr. Hiddleston. If all I knew of Mark Gatiss was the occasional episode of Doctor Who or his work on Sherlock, I'd still think he was a pretty good actor. But in this, he shines. He fills the character with pomposity and vulnerability.

Deborah Findlay as Volumina, Marcius' mother, is put through the ringer and then some. You can't stand her in the beginning because she's more concerned that he's been wounded in service of his country than that he walked away alive. I think, in some small way, when the ending comes, she knows what her part in his downfall is.

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen played Virgilia, his wife -- she's little more than his chief mourner, but yet she also serves in a subtle way as his Greek Chorus. Shakespeare seems to have added the character to do nothing more than that and the character is difficult to flesh out.

And on to Tom Hiddleston.

I've seen The Hollow Crown now. And last night, saw Coriolanus. And I sincerely mean it when I say that maybe Will didn't know it at the time, but he was writing for Tom Hiddleston to be born one day and perform his plays. Hiddleston takes to Shakespeare in much the same way that a duck takes to water or a bird takes to flight. It comes with little effort, as if born to the manor. So to speak.

Hiddleston's Caius
Martius Coriolanus is a complicated man. A career soldier, he has the swagger and arrogance of a man of his convictions. Fighting a decisive battle, he comes home as a wounded war hero who is suddenly thrust into the world of political intrigue. It is a role that he is not suited to play because the newly named Coriolanus is a brutally honest man who knows all too well that some are born to rule and many are born to follow. He does not suffer fools, he does not sit well under the fawning and trappings of politics, and he does not speak in the politically correct way of the day. He makes enemies of the very people he has been forced to represent. And it quickly leads to his downfall -- his fall from grace, his subsequent need for vengeance, and his tragically violent death.

One of my friends made the comment last night of the similarities between
Martius and #Loki -- and in that paragraph, I see them now too. 

Hiddleston's performance gets intensely painful at times, specifically when he bathes at the end of the big battle and the pain of the water hitting his wounds is intense. He cries, he screams, he writhes in that pain as the blood pours from his body in the water. The ending, his own ending, watching him being hauled up by the feet and having his throat slit, listening to the dying man's gurgles, the blood pouring again on the ground and on the face of the man that was his enemy, then his friend, and then his enemy again. It was a visceral gut punch that laid me out, cut me to the quick.

It was nothing short of brilliant, the man the British press are calling "the new Lawrence Olivier". I foresee that man's career taking off in even bigger ways. And I think I would crawl across 50 miles of broken glass just to watch him do ANYTHING on the stage and screen.

Final thoughts on Coriolanus --

The death of the man still haunts me. I was home well before midnight and yet I couldn't fall asleep until 2 am. I lay down before that and saw that image of the dying Coriolanus and I would start crying. Then I woke up at somewhere around 4 am, sobbing my heart out. The picture in my dreams, the picture in my head. It hurts beyond all reasonable thought. In fact, I have no reason why. I just hurt and in the hurt, I weep. And in the weeping, I think something is making sense to me somewhere inside.

You see, Coriolanus is a play that transcends the time in which it's set. The story of one man who is far too honest to be a politician -- don't we all know one or two that have tried and failed in a bid for that power and for that reason? Their unflagging honesty and purity of soul? That we label arrogance and disdain?

In 400 years since this play was written, we seem to have learned nothing of the lessons of the past. We are still governed by mob rule. Those we praise today, we crucify tomorrow. Those we follow today, we vilify tomorrow -- for "taking our freedoms" that we willingly gave away to begin with. We follow the trends like the good little sheeple we are. We call ourselves sophisticated and evolved. And the truth is, we haven't evolved at all. We're still the good little barbarian horde.

I've now seen brilliance on the stage. Keep your MacBeth, your Romeo and Juliet. I will always love Hamlet because it was my first play, my first live action play, and my first Shakespeare play. But I think this just became my new favorite of the Shakespearean Canon. I have to see it again, whoever the cast. I think I will be haunted it by this production for some time to come. And I do mean "haunted".

Check your local movie theater listings -- you may be able to find a rebroadcast in your area. And if you do, go see it! Move heaven and earth to do so but go. If not, check out the movie version with Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler. It's so worth the watching.



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