In what has become a week for the history books, the cast and crew of Coriolanus present a production that reflects the future fears of many.
To tackle the words of Shakespeare anywhere other than at the Globe or the RSC, particularly one of his lesser known plays, is highly courageous. As if this was not challenging enough, director Joe Mcaulay’s decision to reconfigure the play for a modern setting demonstrates a meticulous attention to detail.
The tale of Coriolanus follows soldier Caius Martius (Rob Younger), who is named consul following his defeat of the Volscians for possession of the Italian city Corioles. Though he initially convinces the people of his rightful position, he is quickly shown to have evil intent and, as such, is outcast by the Senate. Though he reconciles and plots with the Volscian general, Aufidius (Daniel Orejon), to seek revenge on Rome, his mother Volumnia (Alice Markey) convinces him to return. In the wake of this decision, Aufidius, feeling betrayed, conspires to have his revenge on Martius.
From the beginning, the production reminds the audience of the current political climate. Projections of tumultuous scenes from modern newsreels are interspersed throughout, while a collection of radio sound bites play in surround sound.
This sets the scene for a high tech show that projects iPhone text messages each time the actors pick up a phone. All the while, Nicola Farr’s set cleverly adds to the play’s contemporary setting.
There is no hiding from the parallels drawn here – if only the production team had known when selecting this script just how pertinent it would become.
Unlike most shows at Bedlam, Coriolanus includes a sizeable cast with eight chorus members and 10 principle actors. This is extremely useful in violent scenes requiring a crescendo of sound. A handful of performances warrant special recognition. Bedlam veterans Rob Younger and Jenn Jones give gripping portrayals in their opposing roles and carry the weight of difficult dialogue professionally. Daniel Orejon gives a grippingly malicious performance as Aufidius, and Charlie Ralph as Menenius supplies some much needed comic relief. Of the chorus members, Lucy Davidson and James Sullivan interact with the principle cast wonderfully as ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ citizen. Their highly developed interpretation of Shakespearean language will hopefully lead into larger parts in future productions.
Star of the show is undoubtedly Alice Markey as Volumnia, whose understanding of the nuances of Shakespearean language as well as her stage presence sets her apart from the beginning. Her performance serves as an excellent example of what can be achieved with Shakespearean language when it is skilfully delivered.
Though the production team cannot justly take credit for the timeliness of this performance, its resonance with current events makes it all the more impactful. The production serves as a significant reminder of the importance of standing for kindness, peace, and justice in a period of unrest.