Saturday 1 February 2014

Coriolanus at National Theatre Live: A Cinematic Success?

Aside from the 25th-anniversary concert of Les Miserables in 2010, Coriolanus was my first experience of seeing a play in the cinema. And did it disappoint? In a word: no. 

I was so drawn into the production it felt like I was actually there, and I had no problems ‘bridging the gap’ between the theatre and the cinema. I thought the play was brilliant.

All the actors played their roles well, from the hot-headed passion of Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus to the sly scheming of Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger’s tribunes. Mark Gatiss’ Menenius brought a welcome touch of humour, providing moments of light-hearted relief to ease the tension. Hadley Fraser, playing Coriolanus’ nemesis Aufidius, was another who played his part well, clearly demonstrating the changes in his character’s mindset throughout the play.

The minimalist staging was an effective change to the tradition of lavishly elaborate sets often seen in Shakespeare's plays. I found it a bit odd initially to have the actors who weren’t in the scene at the time sitting against the wall at the back of the stage, but I quickly got used to it.

In particular, I thought the shower scene was very effective because it showed us Coriolanus’ vulnerability. Also, the effect created by the blood staining the water droplets red was exceedingly impressive visually.

One thing that did throw me a bit was the brief snatches of music in the transitions between scenes. The modern score was a bit jarring and I felt it didn’t really fit with the play at times. Similarly, I wasn’t overly impressed with the costumes. Some of the actors appeared to be wearing barely-adapted modern clothing, which I didn’t think worked well. Still, these are only minor things that didn’t detract from the overall high quality of the performance.

At the end of the play, some of the people around me in the cinema started to applaud, some didn’t, and awkwardness descended on everyone. Nobody really knew how to act. Of course, in the theatre, you clap at the end to show your appreciation. So why were people applauding actors on the cinema screen? In my opinion, the boundaries blurred at the end. During the play, you can pretend you’re in the live audience, but those imaginary walls break down when the play finishes and the audience rejoins reality.

Emma Freud’s interval interview with director Josie Rourke was interesting, if rather cringe-worthy in places. Did we really need to be reminded that the play starred MTV's “sexiest actor on the planet?”

However, the entertainment value of the interview paled in comparison with the cleaners sweeping the mess of fake blood, water, and whatever else off the stage. Granted, that doesn’t sound very interesting, but it was the topic of conversation all around me. I heard one woman remark to her companion, “I wonder how much money they waste on fake blood.”

Coriolanus: gruesomely gory, yet current, captivating, and definitely memorable.

Did you see Coriolanus? Let me know in the comments below!

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