First things first, I must say that the Donmar Warehouse is probably one of my favorite places in London. With only 250 seats, it creates an intimacy that I haven’t been able to find in any other theatre. You’re not only seeing the play, you become a part of it. And Coriolanus is no exception. Josie Rourke exploits the space brilliantly, with simple chairs and a ladder. The sound effects resonate against the close walls, echoing in your chest, making your heart beat faster.
We first meet with the young Martius. Painting on the ground and playing to be a soldier. The night I was in he was played by the young and adorable Thomas Harrison. I must take a few seconds of your time to congratulate him and wish him all the luck in the world for whatever the future might have for him.
Then we meet the citizens and their rage. Rochenda Sandall gives an impressively aggressive performance, ax in hand, as she threatens the noble Menenius. Mark Gatiss (Menenius) is utterly funny as he relates his story about the belly, and the chemistry between him and Rochanda Sandall works perfectly on stage.
The steady pace keeps us breathless and fascinated. Tom Hiddleston makes his entrance, as a true warrior, a lethal General. There is nothing polite or courteous about him anymore as he fully becomes the noble Caius Martius, ready for the war against the Volscians. A true warrior indeed, supported by his mother and missed by his wife. Deborah Findlay being monumental as Volumnia. Fierce and noble. In front her, Marius is nothing but a little boy again. From this, it results some highly amusing scenes, as when the newly called Coriolanus answers his mother “Well I will do it!” as if he’d been asked to tidy up his room for the third time.
Sure enough, Mrs Findlay’s Volumnia is a bit crazy. As the tribunes (Helen Schlesinger & Elliot Levey) would put it : “They say she’s mad”. But she’s also a loving mother, which makes her both funny and respectable. In comparison, Virgilia, played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, is a living personification of pain, fear and sorrow. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must be to be in such a state for almost three hours, sometimes twice a day. The young actress also manages to give Virgilia some rather impressive excesses of strength, showing us all the extend of her talent.
As the story progresses, blood flourishes everywhere. The fight between Coriolanus and Titus Aufidius still resonates in my ears, so close. If i shut my eyes, i can still see the wounds on Tom Hiddleston’s arm and shoulder; looking so real thanks to the makeup team. Hiddleston gives us an outstanding performance. And the chemistry between him and Hadley Fraser (Aufidius) is a true revelation.
The scene of the shower on stage is incredibly excruciating to watch as Martius’s whole body shakes painfully. His disdain towards the people and later towards the very people who supported him is fully expressed in his furious eyes. Eyes which will even release some heartbreaking tears as Deborah Findlay falls to her knees to implore his grace. The tragedy is then at its highest. There is no more humor in Mark Gatiss’s eyes as Menenius is dismissed on a terse “Away”. All is lost in tears as Cominius, interpreted by Peter de Jersey, falls to the ground, shot down by his sorrow.
The play ends the way it started : with a breathless audience. The standing ovation is immediate as the cast stands on stage, smiling. They were all, without any exception, astonishing. We came in with some expectations, and came out with stars in our eyes. In the end, that’s all there is to say…