Coriolanus

Performance history

Like some of Shakespeare's other plays (All's Well That Ends Well; Timon of Athens), there is no recorded performance of Coriolanus prior to the Restoration. After 1660, however, its themes made it a natural choice for times of political turmoil. The first known performance was Nahum Tate's bloody 1682 adaptation at Drury Lane. Seemingly undeterred by the earlier suppression of his Richard II, Tate offered a Coriolanus that was faithful to Shakespeare through four acts before becoming a Websterian bloodbath in the fifth act. A later adaptation, John Dennis's The Invader of His Country, or The Fatal Resentment, was booed off the stage after three performances in 1719. The title and date indicate Dennis's intent, a vitriolic attack on the Jacobite 'Fifteen. (Similar intentions motivated James Thomson's 1745 version, though this bears only a very slight resemblance to Shakespeare's play. Its principal connection to Shakespeare is indirect; Thomas Sheridan's 1752 production at Smock Alley used some passages of Thomson's. David Garrick returned to Shakespeare's text in a 1754 Drury Lane production.[20]

Laurence Olivier first played the part at The Old Vic in 1937 and again at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1959. In that production, he performed Coriolanus's death scene by dropping backwards from a high platform and being suspended upside-down without the aid of wires.[21]

In 1971 the play returned to the Old Vic in a National Theatre production directed by Manfred Wekwerth and Joachim Tenschert with stage design by Karl von Appen. Anthony Hopkins played Coriolanus, with Constance Cummings as Volumnia and Anna Carteret as Virgilia.

Other performances of Coriolanus include Paul Scofield, Ian McKellen, Ian Richardson, Toby Stephens, Robert Ryan, Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, Colm Feore, Ralph Fiennes and Tom Hiddleston.

In 2004, the Hudson Shakespeare Company of New Jersey presented Coriolanus as part of its annual Shakespeare in the Parks series. Director King Rich Warren placed the action in the a fascist 1930s setting that mirrored depression era America. Other notable features of the production centered on having the character of Coriolanus' mother Volumnia played much younger than usual portrayed and having the tribunes that drive Coriolanus' exile as social crusading women.[22]

In 2012, National Theatre Wales produced a composite of Shakespeare's Coriolanus with Bertolt Brecht's Coriolan, entitled Coriolan/us, in a disused hangar at MOD St Athan.[23] Directed by Mike Brooks and Mike Pearson, the production used Silent disco headsets to permit the text to be heard while the dramatic action moved throughout the large space. The production was well received by critics.[24][25]

In December 2013, Donmar Warehouse opened their new production. It was directed by Josie Rourke, starring Tom Hiddleston in the title role, along with Mark Gatiss, Deborah Findlay, Hadley Fraser, and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen.[26][27] The production received very strong reviews. Michael Billington with The Guardian wrote "A fast, witty, intelligent production that, in Tom Hiddleston, boasts a fine Coriolanus."[28] He also credited Mark Gatiss as excellent as Menenius, the "humorous patrician".[28] Writer for Variety, David Benedict wrote that Deborah Findlay in her commanding maternal pride, held beautifully in opposition by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Coriolanus's wife Virgilia.[29] Helen Lewis, in her review of Coriolanus, along with two other concurrently running sold-out Shakespeare productions with celebrity leads — David Tennant's Richard II and Jude Law's Henry V — concludes "if you can beg, borrow or plunder a ticket to one of these plays, let it be Coriolanus."[30] The play was broadcast in cinemas in the U.K. and internationally on 30 January 2014 as part of the National Theatre Live programme.[31][32]


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