Year of Shakespeare: Coriolanus

What others are saying ...

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  1. I’m not familiar with the story of Coriolanus and although I do like Shakespeare, my knowledge of his plays is limited to the more famous ones. I can’t say I understood this production, but I’m not sure I would have understood it any more in English. So, instead of trying to make perfect sense of the plot, I enjoyed it for what it was. It was quirky, with music played on kazoos and a xylophone. It was funny, with badly played trumpets parping and playful voices. It was flavoured with Japan, with Noh-style masks, a clear nod to the hinomaru, and shibori (tie-dyed) costumes.
  2. Had one listened to the Chiten company from Kyoto performing Coriolanus with one’s eyes closed, it would have seemed as if the stage were teeming with performers. And without understanding a word of Japanese, a theatregoer could respond to the gamut of moods and rhetoric of the play, from mob fury met with autocratic disdain to political conniving and on to maternal grief and horror: all were audibly evident in a collective tour de force of verbal dexterity, range and expression.
  3. In the first act, there is a heavy price to pay for this focus on Coriolanus and his language. Little room is left for the women’s voices to emerge. His wife Virgilia steps forward from the chorus only briefly in the first half. When Volumnia his mother, emerges for the first time in the second half, she is voiced by her son in a strange sound-scape possession. And yet this disconcerting moment also signals a promising change of pace: a shift towards the kind of expressionist almost operatic style of theatre for which this company — Chiten – are renowned. When the chorus, now playing Volumnia and her family, visit Coriolanus to plead for Rome’s safety, Volumnia kneels, addressing her son in a swaying sing-song. It is a far cry from Vanessa Redgrave’s recent berating of Ralph Fiennes while sporting full military regalia.* This static keening Volumnia seems to hypnotise her son into submission, her erratically pitched pleading raised against Coriolanus’ groans. It does not always work, but the moments when it did gave a glimpse of a much braver experimental version of Coriolanus struggling to get out.
  4. Coriolanus in Japanese @The_Globe tonight: dramatic, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, subtle. Excellent use of baguettes. Brilliant. #G2G
  5. The acting was heavily stylised and contained some strongly Japanese elements, not all of which worked. Coriolanus performed large chunks with a basket over his head (Ali points out that technically this was a tengai), presumably intended to symbolise his military helmet, but maybe also emphasising his lack of rapport with the common people - us, the audience. This distance also seemed to be symbolised by the fact that when he was being insincere with the mob, he spoke in a deliberately foreign accent – perhaps a risky ploy with so many non-Japanese in the audience.
  6. Radically stylised Japanese Coriolanus, don't know quite what to make of it, quite unusual. #G2G
  7. The production was uncompromising in the way it challenged the audience, refusing to spoon-feed them with easily digestible entertainment. This was very much in the spirit of Coriolanus himself: a man unwilling to pander to popular expectations.
  8. Of all the productions that I have seen so far in G-to-G this was the most stimulating. Paring the number of actors down to just those required for the pivotal 'family' scene kept us continually alert to what the drama was saying: we could never allow our attention to wander for a second; and by turning them instantly from family to Volsci it brought home with shocking brutality the link between Coriolanus' capitulation to his mother's pleas and his death.
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