Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Coriolanus: A Review

George Neame reviews this year's Sixth Form Shakespeare production, Coriolanus, performed at Southsea Castle, July 4-5.


Owen Jones as Coriolanus
(photo: Chris Reed)
Having been reliably informed of the substantial efforts of the Coriolanus cast and crew by their limited social life over the past few weeks (“Sorry, I can’t, I have Coriolanus…”), I had high hopes for this year’s Sixth-Form Shakespeare performance. One of the Bard’s later and less well-known tragedies, the play follows the troubles of Caius Martius who is given the title Coriolanus after successfully defeating Rome’s enemies, the Volscians, in the city of Corioles. Returning to Rome a hero, Martius runs for consul, only to be exiled after power-hungry tribunes exploit his short temper.

So, on Wednesday 4th July, as I took my seat and the metaphorical curtain went up, the first thought to strike me was the overwhelming success of casting and the subsequently brilliant standards of acting. The opposing forces of Owen Jones and Phil Belcher as Coriolanus and Aufidius were spectacularly captivating, and the superb, emotionally-believable performances by the likes of Emily Duff, Katy Greenwood, Alex Love and Harry Harwood bought a third dimension to a fairly linear storyline. From the beginning, it was also clear that the chorus had a key role in the play, becoming an acting body that worked in unison to create a vivid and atmospheric setting.

Phil Belcher as Aufidius
(photo: Chris Reed)
This sense of atmosphere was heightened by the great choice of location at Southsea Castle, the different entrance points to the stage immersing the audience in the play and the ability to have Coriolanus standing on the castle walls above his empire adding realism and drama. It can’t be ignored that there was a significant element of luck in the fact that the rain held out and the skies were relatively cloud-free, given the exposed positioning of both the audience and actors, but the bet seemed to pay off.

Another element that should be commended is the minimalistic but vital use of props, staging and sound. Rather than clogging up the limited stage space with unnecessary items, only a few props were used onstage, allowing us to focus primarily on the action and dialogue. The few chairs, newspapers and radios that were used seemed to settle into the background nicely, the enormous cake being unashamedly devoured by the cast being the only small, stomach-rumbling distraction. Although there was the odd problem with timing, the music choices during tense scenes and the use of BBC-style news reports made the performance both more dramatic and easier to follow.

James Gulliford and Ben Willcocks as The Tribunes
(photo: Chris Reed)
Probably the play’s most memorable scene was the epic fight between the Volscians and the Romans, which proved to be as confusing as it was entertaining. Although the meticulous choreography meant the scene was exciting, tense and enjoyable, you couldn’t help but find it slightly random and out-of-place. Maddy Shand also appeared to be fighting thin air after the Romans were one man short due to a shortage of sticks to fight with. Nevertheless, the scene did bring some sort of modern light-heartedness to a distinctly sombre Shakespearean tragedy, humour which also came in the form of the comedy duo of co-directors James Gulliford and Ben Willcocks

A sense of uncertainty surrounded the end of Act One as the crew seemed indecisive over when it was supposed to end, but, after the interval, the actors and actresses returned for everything to run smoothly until the tense ending that had you on the edge of your seat.

Although there were minor technical faults and slightly sketchy dance numbers, congratulations have to go to the five directors who had to deal with dropouts, cast unavailability and a budget that differed quite substantially to Ralph Fiennes’ film adaption last year. The adaption of such a complex play was also very well managed, cutting parts that were too confusing or impossible to stage with a cast of teenagers and cleverly mixing classic Shakespearean dialogue with a modern setting. Despite the impressive choreography and management, though, it was the charismatic and enthralling acting skills of the talented and dedicated cast that really bought the play to life and truly made it a success.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, but you are so wrong about the weather. One of the directors assured me that it would be much better if it rained during the performance to create the right mood. But you are spot on about the cake. Very unfair on the audience.

    Mr Smith

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