Review: Coriolanus @ Crucible Theatre

A tale of people, power and pride, Sheffield Theatres’ bruising production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus certainly left a mark or two on the Crucible audience during its opening this week.

With much to live up to following artistic director Robert Hastie’s lauded 2017 production of Julius Caesar, the intensity seldom dropped below heated as Tom Bateman’s simmering Coriolanus repeatedly stalked the stage delivering damning verdicts and bellowing out enraged soliloquies towards the audience.

Genuinely likeable characters are few and far between in this play probing the powerful elite and their relationship with the lower classes, the latter of whom the protagonist harbours a profound disdain towards. An undeniably brave and talented soldier, after being appointed Consul following a heroic battle against arch-enemy Aufidius (played in chillingly deranged fashion by Theo Ogundipe) Coriolanus struggles to make peace with his hatred of the common people, who eventually decide to humiliatingly banish him from Rome.

There’s political scheming from all corners on display: Sicnius and Brutus are the conniving tribunes engaged in a constant smear campaign; Stella Gonet puts in a strong performance as Volumnia, the overbearing but politically shrewd and ambitious mother; while Malcolm Sinclair’s Menenius is the embodiment of modern day establishment types, saying the right things but devoid of any sincerity and with a palpable air of condescension.

Arguably, the character suffering most during the perpetual conflict on show is Coriolanus’ wife, Virgillia (Hermon Berhane). During passionate exchanges, which often see her pleading for some restraint in proceedings, she manages to elicit rare moments of tenderness from an increasingly embittered husband.

The fast-paced second half is largely about revenge, and specifically how far Coriolanus is prepared to go to exact it. Clothed in modern day army fatigues and toting pistols and submachine guns while Rome consuls wring hands and point fingers in the senate, Coriolanus and a new band of admirers threaten to overthrow the city. Tensions reaches fever pitch and the returning tyrant is faced with a fateful decision to make.

Dressed up in modern day attire, this production makes it easier than ever for audiences to reflect on how the issues presented are reflected in the politics of today; namely the reality of how the powerful view those beneath them, the danger of reactionary populist movements, and man’s continually insatiable appetite for legitimising war.

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