On an exceptionally bitter February night, an audience awaits the opening scene of Coriolanus. Set in Regent’s Park College, the stage is a bare concrete platform, backed onto the Dining Hall. Yet, despite this very bare backdrop, and the limitations of performing a play outside in Hilary Term, it is set to hold an excellent portrayal of Shakespeare’s play.
Promotional posters have depicted a Coriolanus in a crisp, white shirt, untouched by the splattered blood which dominates the rest of the poster. When the main character arrives on stage relieving the awaiting audience, what the posters have promised is true, he swaggers on suited-and-booted, pulsing with arrogance. Directed by Lucy Clarke, there is a very strong sense of her vision from the outset: while Coriolanus dons a suit, the plebeians who open the play are in scruffy modern-dress: tracksuit bottoms, baggy jumpers, and oversized coats. They are armed with cricket bats, not swords which the elite characters ruthlessly swing about. Immediately the characters feel less like the senators and people of Ancient Rome, and Coriolanus, with a distinctly smug expression, instead feels more like something from David Cameron’s ‘Hug a Hoodie’ campaign. Aloof and smarmy, he frequently indulges in violent rages about what he sees as the scum of Rome. This is not the only one of Clarke’s innovations: the gender-blind cast, in which many characters are played by women, make for a poignant play with the feel of raging against contemporary patriarchy and politics, particularly true of the domineering Volumnia, played by Victoria Galwick.
This is a streamlined version of Coriolanus, at least 1000 lines have been cut, and this Coriolanus, played by Will Taylor, is a hubristic and tyrannical character who prowls on stage, covered in blood, panther-like, and remorseless. However, despite being shorter in length, and the acts before the designated interlude being of very much a good quality, by the interlude it seemed that both the actors and audience were tiring of both such consistent fury, and the cold.
Yet, after gulping down mulled wine and hot chocolate, provided by the Regent’s Park College JCR Bar and Environmental Society, the audience sat down again, invigorated for the much shorter ending acts of the play. Any slight doubts were immediately eradicated. The post-interlude acts of the play were truly a triumph. Clarke’s vision proved to be absolute genius. In the final act, the audience watched a Coriolanus intent on vengefully destroying Rome. However, as his mother, wife and child weep, the hard-shelled anti-hero breaks, and so does the audience. These were the most fantastically portrayed scenes, with the actors excelling themselves: all previously ranting and raving characters, are inverted as they provide the most emotional heart-wrenching performances. All of Clarke’s creative touches came together excellently at the end of this play, as the ballot papers fluttered from the highest windows as they had done in the beginning. Coriolanus rose in a crescendo of brilliance which reduced me to tears by the end.
Image // Suzannah King