Review: Coriolanus (starring Tom Hiddleston), at the Donmar Warehouse

 Tom Hiddleston (Coriolanus), Hadley Fraser (Aufidius). Photo by Johan Persson

Tom Hiddleston (Coriolanus), Hadley Fraser (Aufidius). Photo by Johan Persson

The last time I saw Coriolanus on stage was at Gainsborough studios in 2000. I might not remember much about the production, but one thing impossible to forget was the space. The film studios had been turned into a theatrical space just before their demolition, creating a vast stage in front of a vast auditorium. It’s interesting that my second Coriolanus experience is at the Donmar Warehouse, which is the definition of a small space with vast ambitions.

Intimacy has always been the Donmar’s focus: at the first scene of Coriolanus, a child enters the stage and draws a line on the floor. It could be a playground game but this is war and things take a different turn. Soon there is enough hustle and bustle to suggest civil unrest and bloody battles. (The fight between Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Hadley Fraser’s Aufidius is particularly forceful. In such a small space it certainly makes an impact: nothing like being a yard away from swords macheting in the air). Ultimately though, it all comes back to that first image and to close familial relationships. In a thrilling scene at the senate, the speeches make political points as much as personal ones, and it’s this uneasy combination that gives the play its drive.

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Review: 55 Days at the Hampstead theatre

Mark Gatiss as King Charles I. Photo Catherine Ashmore

I have a peculiar relationship with british history. As I never studied it at school, all my knowledge comes from fictional universes. When I hear of Oliver Cromwell, I am more likely to think of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright than any historical facts. With that in mind (which is to say with so little about the actual historical facts in mind) I went to see Howard Brenton’s play 55 Days, directed by Howard Davies, about the days leading to the trial and execution of King Charles I amid the English Civil war.

It’s a play of two halves: on one side we have the historical context, more than a dozen characters representing different fractions and ideas, trying to get their point across. I admit that in those scenes I felt lost. The performances were energetic, the direction had urgency but no character had enough time to make their mark with a text that seemed wordy and slow. It felt like the actors were running ahead trying to create momentum while dragging the text behind.  But the mirror side of the play more than makes up for this problem. Continue reading