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Coriolanus – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Angus Jackson

Reviewer: Catherine Lyon

A brutal landscape of cold, rattling metal, civil anarchy and the imminent threat of bloodshed. This is where the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest production of Coriolanus opens. Delivering on its promises, the production offers its fair share of gore, sword fighting and unbridled masculine rivalry.

Set against the harsh angularity of Robert Innes Hopkins’ design, the cast as a whole provides a more subtle retelling of the piece. No longer an exclusively male sphere, Jackson’s casting puts two women in the roles of the Tribunes, Volumnia and Virgillia, played brilliantly by Haydn Gwynne and Hannah Morrish respectively.

The men provide intriguing spectra of masculinity, both in the general company and the major parts. Paul Jesson as Menenius and James Corrigan as Aufidius are impressive and, at points, intensely watchable in their roles.

However, the most challenging aspect of the piece is, unfortunately, this production’s undoing, namely the casting of the main man himself. Sope Dirisu has all the promise of Coriolanus, a powerful stature and a voice like thunder, expectations of him carrying the performance on his impressive shoulders are high. Unfortunately, what emerges is less of a blood-thirsty tyrant but a petulant man-child. Perhaps in the interests of subtlety, Dirisu’s anger has been seriously toned down to the point where cries for him to ‘temper himself’ seem silly. It also leaves the character, and consequently the performance, flat and unconvincing.

A fault perhaps of the play itself, rather than the acting, the production fails to tackle the big questions that the writing presents. By staying too close to the script and being too subtle in the direction, the power and complexity of the piece are lost, epitomised by a lack of feeling in the last few moments.

All in all, an apt performance, but one that could easily be missed in favour of a production later in the RSC’s Tales of Rome season.

Runs until 14 October 2017 | Image: Helen-Maybanks (c) RSC

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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