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National Theatre Live: Coriolanus

Written by Arts, Theatre

For the last however many weeks of lockdown, I have been tuning in to watch the National Theatre Live shows. From Jane Eyre to Twelfth Night, it has been a privilege to watch some of the best shows, filmed and live-streamed on YouTube for a maximum of 7 days. It has become a routine for me and my good pal Sophie Hicks to meet up (on Zoom) and watch together, wishing we were desperately in the theatres rather than in our pjs, eating snacks at home.

The recent National Theatre Live was Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, a brilliant Roman play, once originally performed in the small space of Blackfriars. Starring the fantastic Tom Hiddleston, it’s truly one of the best shows I’ve watched in a long time. Even if it took me the entirety of the length of the play to properly pronounce the title.

The battle scenes are gory, brilliantly done with chairs, ladders and fake blood

The set the actors are performing in is extremely intimate and minimal, with nothing really to cast your eyes upon apart from the graffiti-sprayed walls demanding: “Grain at our own price”, a symbol of the Roman discontent that preoccupies the show. The battle scenes are gory, brilliantly done with chairs, ladders and fake blood.

Additionally, the control of the use of stagecraft makes this show one of the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen. There’s one scene where Hiddleston is centre-stage, in the white light as water surges down onto his bloody body. It’s magnificently powerful as you watch Coriolanus fight for what he believes in, for his power and for his revenge. Even the use of sound is potent to the theme – power, violence, danger.

A lot of the play is also made up with speeches from the people, from Coriolanus himself, from his mother. Each one is excellently done, with beautiful enunciation that you almost feel like you’re there in the audience (both of the play and at the consul meetings), seeing the actor’s spit as they angrily defend their corner, seeing the Romans anger. The speeches do a brilliant job of highlighting the public appetite for military success, of highlighting the grievance-filled populace.

As for the acting – Tom Hiddleston steals the show

As for the acting – Tom Hiddleston steals the show. As he should do. He plays a brilliant Coriolanus, so much so that you can’t help but feel sorry for him, sympathy for his situation (especially when he was crying after seeing his wife and family). He is a victim of his militaristic family, his destiny in life but at the same time, you know he deserves every thing he receives – he is reckless, he is politically arrogant, he is naive. Hiddleston does an excellent job in portraying the complexity of the eponymous hero.

Hadley Fraser also does a brilliant job of portraying the homoerotic bond and tension he has with between his character and Coriolanus. He’s there for him when the hero changes sides, he’s angry when he changes his mind again (our hero is very indecisive) but the tension is definitely there. Fraser brings to life the chemistry of these two characters, even in Coriolanus’ death (which of course we all expected because the play is of course, a tragedy, and Shakespeare himself is a formulaic man).

I am one of the biggest fans of Tom Hiddleston (I absolutely adore Loki), but his role in Coriolanus, the rest of the cast, the beautiful set and transitions all make this one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long while and I am extremely thankful to National Theatre Live for giving me the opportunity to watch this from the comfort of my lockdown lair.

Last modified: 15th June 2020

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