Coriolanus on stage and screenPosted: April 3, 2013
The Hypocrites is presenting an inventive version of a not-often-performed Shakespeare play, Coriolanus, at Chopin Theatre. The audience sits around the small performing space and feels very much involved in the verbal and physical confrontations that occur. (I’d call it theater in the round, but that suggests a stage with people separated from the actors. We were really on stage. I had to keep my feet tucked under my chair to keep them out of the action.)
You get a real sense of the combination of warmth and animosity from the verbal and physical byplay between the Roman warrior Caius Martius (later Coriolanus) and Aufidius, general of the Volscians, enemy of Rome. The cast is uniformly good and the fight choreography is well done, if occasionally threatening to the audience. One aspect of costuming looked strange to me. The Roman elites are wearing suits that made them look like carnival barkers or English skiffles musicians. Plaid trousers, big patterned lapels and even some cummerbunds. Very odd look. Or perhaps I was missing the meaning that the costume designer intended.
The play is trimmed from its Shakespearean length to a tight hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission. Coriolanus runs at The Hypocrites until April 23, so you have no excuse for missing it.
So I went home that day, after a Sunday afternoon performance, thinking of the film version of Coriolanus that I had seen recently. And I found it was streaming on Netflix. So I watched Coriolanus for a second time that day. The film is just over two hours and stars Ralph Fiennes* as Coriolanus, Gerard Butler as Aufidius and Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, Caius Martius’ ferocious mother.
The film is terrific and I recommend it highly, either with or without the stage version. The film is set in the current era, with soldiers in camouflage wear and characters viewing battlefield coverage and Roman protestors on Fidelis TV. It was filmed mostly in Serbia and has the film advantage of showing Caius Martius, banished from Rome (yes, I’ve skimped on the plot details here), trudging down highways and fields toward the Volscians.
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s last plays but it is not usually ranked among his best, even though T.S. Eliot famously preferred it to Hamlet. But the film version is gripping and worth watching.
Caius Martius is not a reflective person. He is dominated by his mother, who treats him like a child warrior. Harold Bloom describes him as a “battering ram of a soldier” and does not include him in his description of Shakespearean characters who “invent the human.” Bloom describes Hamlet as the avatar of the man who reflects upon and celebrates his inner self. Caius Martius does none of that.
Book note for Shakespeare fans. I strongly recommend Harold Bloom’s insightful book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (Riverhead Books, 1998), in which he devotes a chapter to each of the Bard’s plays and explores leading characters. It’s a book you will always want to consult after viewing Shakespeare – on stage or screen.
* I had seen Fiennes portray Coriolanus before. I quote from my post celebrating the magic of live performance, Live or Memorex, November 2012: “One of my cherished theater memories is seeing Ralph Fiennes play Coriolanus at the Almeida Theatre in London. It was a very warm June and I got a last-minute front-row seat. Fiennes was wearing a heavy wool uniform and dripping sweat. I was mesmerized by the sweat as well as by the performance.” https://nancybishopsjournal.com/2012/11/10/live-or-memorex/#more-236