Arriving back at my college, Regent’s Park, I was somewhat dismayed to find a crystal clear evening and sub-zero temperatures. With gloves and hat donned, two jumpers and (for the second half) flask and blanket, I felt as though I bore an admittedly pensioner-esque look as I took my seat to see the opening night of director Lucy Clarke’s production of Coriolanus. However, there was no need to be dismayed, in what turned out to be a thoroughly streamlined three-hour production of one of Shakespeare’s least performed plays.
Set in the days of the Roman republic, Coriolanus charts the age-old struggle between the aristocracy and the people. Having not seen or read the play beforehand, I was shocked by the cultural resonances with both the dictatorships of the twentieth century and the unsettling political environment of today. The play follows the changing relations between the political hierarchy formed by Rome’s consulship and the tribunes of the people, with the fairly priggish eponymous warrior Coriolanus at its centre and a populace disgruntled by corn laws and political corruption.
Lucy Clarke succeeded in extracting the full force of Shakespeare’s psychological treatment of how the desire for power affects the individual.
The Ronaldoesque physique of Will Taylor (Coriolanus) was only a minor point in what was otherwise a tremendously moving portrayal of Shakespeare’s protagonist. Victoria Gawlik gave remarkable force to what was both a disturbing and very moving representation of Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia. Sicinius (played by Laura Gledhill) and Brutus (Hugh Tappin) embodied the political scheming of the slightly fascistic tribunes of the people. However, it was the silent decorum of Ethan Knightley (Senator 1) that stole the show at the very end, leaving the audience slightly stunned as the lights fell.
Lucy Clarke’s production took full advantage of the quad at Regent’s; the play was performed outside Helwys Hall with full length republican banners being unfurled for a large part of the evening from the top of the library, 30 feet above. The cast made full use of the quad’s enclosing force:its size meant it was somewhat cosy to begin with for the 100 members of the audience before it began to emulate the increasingly confining walls of power and human malice. Shakespearean diction has a tendency to isolate the characters of the play on the stage. However, the four walls of Regent’s Quad and the excellent craft of the stage production team forced the full implications of Shakespeare’s play onto the audience.
All in all, the production is a must-see for not only keen Shakespeare fans but anyone even vaguely interested in the psychology of power. As I rose from my many, many clothes, I felt a great sense of not only of satis- faction, but, perhaps more significantly, of unsettling Brechtian ‘Unhomeliness’ at the thought of the power and the human will to it.