Directed by Joseph McAulay, this modern take on Shakespeare’s original classic, Coriolanus, combining Shakespearian language with present day technology and costume makes for an innovative and high-energy performance. Upon entering Bedlam’s auditorium, the tone of the play becomes very clear from the angry graffiti scrawled in black, red and white across the set; anarchistic and thrumming with anger. Not one member of the cast, for one moment, let their energy drop which was exceedingly impressive given the length of the performance.
Given the harrowing nature of the play, Charlie Ralph who portrayed Menenius, friend of Coriolanus, offered a refreshingly comic interpretation of the role, outwardly separating himself from the otherwise serious tone set by the other actors. Coriolanus’ antagonist, Tullus Aufidius, played by Daniel Orejon, carried that traditional ‘hatred’ towards his rival, as is typical of the role; however I was pleasantly surprised by the director’s decision to pursue a much more contemporary take on Aufidius’ emotional connection to Coriolanus himself. There is general concurrence amongst anyone who knows Shakespeare that his male characters are, more than often, extremely passionate beings who express that through either violence or intense love. The decision to explore the latter further through Aufidius was highly appropriate given its modern setting and made the relationship between the rivals all the more complicated and interesting to watch. Coriolanus himself, played by Rob Younger, conveyed the character in a fittingly war-like and arrogant manner, effectively gaining the audience’s approval when it came to his rousing speeches yet also their lack of sympathy in light of his angry outbursts and violent tenaciousness.
Despite Bedlam’s unfortunate disposition to be absolutely freezing, especially at this time of year, anyone who didn’t feel a rush of warmth when Coriolanus and Volumnia, mother of Coriolanus, (played by Alice Bethany) were on stage together, must have been totally unfeeling because Volumnia as a character was perhaps one of the most sympathetic yet also fierce out of them all. It is easy to overlook the women in Coriolanus, especially as figures of power, yet this modern portrayal of Volumnia exuded an undeniable authority – commanding respect from every man in her presence which was clearly felt, whilst also demonstrating an unyielding maternal protection over her son, who, for the better part of the play, was content to push her aside and follow his own selfish intentions towards Aufidius, made all the more selfish in terms of how he uses his charisma to manipulate him.
The decision to cast Brutus and Sicinius, the Roman tribunes, as women was also an interesting one as it tipped the dynamics of power. Both actresses played the parts brutally, not allowing their genders to undermine their self-worth or authority for one moment. Their severity contrasted with Menenius’ flippant, doddering attitude created a political situation which, usually boring to watch on stage, became one of the most entertaining parts of the play, especially accompanied with a projection that suggested their meetings and debates take place in a ‘House of Commons’ of sorts. Tech wise, the occasional radio interludes which offered a wider view into the plebeians’ reactions to everything happening on stage were an excellent choice, not only in aiding the audience’s understanding of the plot but also to add to the modern take through the use of present day technology. I am usually wary of stage fight scenes as they can, all too often, appear much too stiff, however, in this case, the choreography was slick and raw, creating gritty and tense fights that didn’t appear overplayed or deliberate. It is important to note that the play did overrun by half an hour or so, making it a long watch in Bedlam’s rather cold auditorium.
I initially went into this play believing it would be a carbon cut-out of most ‘modern-take’ productions of Coriolanus and other Shakespearian works that I have seen. However, the use of the original dialogue combined with the present-day setting worked surprisingly well, and the emotional aspect explored via these complicated characters made the tragedy all the more traumatic and thought-provoking.
Guest Reviewer: Sophia Emmerson