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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Old Vic Theatre      Summer 2003

David Farr's production for the RSC is frequently powerful, frequently engrossing, frequently thought-provoking. The only serious thing wrong with it is that it is these things in turn, rather than together.

While every scene is powerful, they are too often static set pieces, with Farr unable to give the play a forward momentum, so that the three hours running time can be a strain.

Coriolanus is a military hero whose logical next career move is into politics. But he is too proud and disdainful of the populace to court their votes, and his insulting behaviour is used as an excuse to banish him.

He joins forces with an old enemy to march on Rome, but is talked out of conquest at the last minute, thereby sealing his own tragic fate.

Greg Hicks gives the title character more depth and psychological complexity than I've ever seen before, introducing him as a plain professional soldier uncomfortable in any setting other than battle, and only gradually exposing an inner ugliness and the racist-like hatred he has for the common people.

Hicks does much of his best acting in mime, between his lines, as when he shows us the physical effort it takes his socially inept character to be polite and the near-nausea he feels in the presence of the commoners.

Perhaps because this is a virtually uncut text, I was never as aware before of how much debate there was in this play, expressive and thought-provoking discussions of patriotism, morality, and the demands of realpolitik that hold your attention even if director Farr can't keep the play from stopping dead to allow them.

Richard Cordery plays the hero's mentor Menenius with a cordial, almost foolish avuncularity that covers a steely core, while Tom Mannion and Simon Coates make Coriolanus' political enemies shallow men of limited imagination, incapable of ambitions beyond the immediate victory over him.

Alison Fiske brings more passion than clear speaking to the role of the hero's harridan mother, while Chuk Iwuji is not given much opportunity to find a character in Aufidius, the military foe turned ally turned foe again.

It's a long evening, and perhaps only for the dedicated willing to sit through some heavy going for the pleasure of the central performances.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Coriolanus - RSC at Old Vic Theatre 2003

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