Sunday, October 25, 2020

CORIOLANUS (The Show Must Go Online)****


By Dave


Available until: forever

I’ll be honest – of all the Shakespeare plays, I was probably looking forward to this one least. I just don’t find it a very interesting play. It’s also a very complicated play so it does require a certain level of hard work in order to follow what’s going on. I’ve seen Tom Hiddleston in the title role and if he can’t hold my attention, who could?

But this is TSMGO and they have got ways of getting around all my prejudices. They very cleverly put Alix Dunmore in the title role. We’ve seen her in five plays during lockdown, including this one – four of them Shakespeare – and she’s one of our favourites of all the new actors we’ve discovered.

Anyone can perform a Shakespeare play online. But where some plays are concerned, it takes a lot of skill, intelligence and talent to make me want to keep watching. And while TSMGO don’t brush over the more controversial aspects of the plays, they do help us to look at things in different ways and to move away from the real sticking points that earn the problem plays that accolade.

Alix Dunmore is an exceptional Coriolanus. She not only speaks and communicates the text beautifully and performs the negative aspects of Coriolanus’ character well, she also manages to sneak in some vulnerabilities. As she said after the performance, Coriolanus is someone who doesn’t even want to examine his emotions, much less share them. We don’t see into his head as we do Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth. If those three characters were as much a closed book as Coriolanus, there’s a fair chance we’d hate them. Coriolanus doesn’t have that safety net. But Alix, without ever losing sight of who Coriolanus is and what he needs to be, does give us a sense that the emotions are there, whether he wants them or not. He’s not made out of stone. And that makes him fascinating.

And that final scene… I hope I get to see Alix live one day.

This is Coriolanus’ play rather than Aufidius’ but you can only admire the way Sian Eleanor Green has not only made this character almost likeable at times – at the very least, I was very interested in what he was doing and what he would do next - she’s managed to make him into a worthy adversary for Coriolanus. Sian is compelling and intriguing and watching Aufidius and Coriolanus onscreen together is quite something.

There’s also a powerful performance from Jonathan Oliver as Menenius Agrippa – he uses the text really well and he’s another character I was always happy to see onscreen. Drew Paterson (Sicinius Velutus) and Wayne Lee (Cominius) also give really strong performances and Joyce Branagh is great as Volumnia. She’s not the most likeable character but Joyce makes you want to keep watching her. She definitely lives up to her surname. Hector Bateman-Harden, who plays Young Martius, is an incredible young actor. I don’t mean that in a patronising way – I mean that brilliant as he is now, he’ll get much, much better! That thought is almost as scary as some of his facial expressions.

There’s also a very strong ensemble. They had to take on a lot of very small roles, characters with no real story as such – they were there more to express opinions. But the ensemble makes these moments so exciting and memorable. There was a great scene between Steve Charrett and Gareth Balai (who is actually a swing, I’m not sure if he was swinging on or if this was a scheduled appearance) where not very much happened but their characterisation really made me take notice. Matthew Rhodes always has a strong stage presence and as for Chi-Chi Onuah, don’t ever get on the wrong side of her. She looks seriously dangerous with a knife and has a great line in Shakespearean sarcasm. Luckily, there’s no need for me to get on her bad side – she was outstanding in her ensemble roles. Full of character and great to watch. If occasionally terrifying.

I always keep an eye on the live chat because the groundlings often spot things I wouldn’t have seen on my own and provide information that enhances my understanding and enjoyment. One thing that was discussed in this live chat is that TSMGO could produce all the plays not included in the First Folio – Pericles (excluded from the First Folio), The Two Noble Kinsmen (now probably accepted by the majority as part of the cannon), Edward III (which is certainly given a spirited defence in my copy of the play) and Sir Thomas More (which I actually didn’t realise is available to read so I’m looking forward to reading that at some point). Maybe they could also produce the other plays Shakespeare is thought to have contributed to, including Arden of Faversham, Edmund Ironside and The Spanish Tragedy. (The truth is I just don’t want TSMGO to end. Nobody does!)

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