Gary Stringer reviews William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Shakespeare’s Coriolanus explodes onto the Crucible’s stage in a new production directed by Robert Hastie, artistic director of Sheffield Theatres. Following the tragic rise and fall of a war hero in ancient Rome, it places the audience in a forum setting, immersing them in the heart of the action from the very beginning. You feel like you are a part of the senate as members of Sheffield People’s Theatre throng about the space and engage in rabble-rousing to startling effect. Under designer Ben Stones, the staging is simple against the beautiful wooden panelling of the auditorium, leaving Lucy Carter’s lighting to create atmosphere. During the brutal fight scenes, choreographed like a dark ballet by Renny Krupinski, and the tense army manoeuvres, you could almost be watching a high-concept fashion show with a catwalk parade of military fetishism.
Tom Bateman is excellent as Coriolanus, perfectly displaying the pride and petulance of the military wunderkind. Antagonistic when he should be contrite, he seethes with anger and barely contains his disdain for the ordinary people he seeks to control rather than serve. He is well matched by his arch-enemy, Aufidius, played with a vulpine, predatory physicality by Theo Ogundipe. Their re-engagement at Antium plays out against a backdrop of testosterone-fuelled masculinity. As punch bags swing from the ceiling, their mutual hatred gives way to respect and perhaps, it is strongly suggested, something more.
As Volumnia, Stella Gonet displays a steely ambition, with her pride in her son’s exploits contributing to Coriolanus’s fall and ultimate sacrifice. Using sign language, his scenes with his wife Virgilia, played by Hermon Berhane, have grace and tenderness that contrast with his hot-headedness. Malcolm Sinclair is a statesmanlike Menenius, displaying a sombre remorse and genuine grief as situations spiral out of control, in part orchestrated by an antagonistically conspiratorial double act of Remmie Milner and Alex Young as Sicinius and Brutus.
With the current political situation on both sides of the Atlantic, and with recent divisive elections, this electrically executed tale feels more topical than ever; the road to Hell is always destined, it seems, to be paved with misplaced intentions. In this production, the play is a striking demonstration of the “snakes and ladders” of politics, the fickle nature of public acclaim and, as in the modern rise of social media, the dark side of uncontrolled mob rule.
Running at Crucible Theatre to 28 March 2020.SHEFFIELD THEATRES WEBSITE