Coriolanus

“This Coriolanus didn’t strike me as someone who would shy from the limelight; if anything, he seemed to enjoy performance.” NANCY NAPPER CANTER isn’t convinced.

adam kirton cameron-wilson coriolanus fergus blair Justin Wells shouty shakespeare

Corpus Playroom, 7pm, 27th November- 1st December, £5/6  

Dir. Fergus Blair

No one likes shouty Shakespeare. On the basis of this, I was convinced for the first half hour that this production deserved two stars. But even if it didn’t quieten down, the evening picked up.

Corpus Playroom felt far too small to accommodate Justin Wells’ booming Coriolanus. It wasn’t just Wells – Daniel Unruh as Cominius was guilty of this too. With Wells, however, the volume was more troubling: it contributed to a characterisation that seemed too gregarious. His Coriolanus didn’t strike me as someone who would shy from the limelight; if anything, he seemed to enjoy performance. Combined with a tendency to over-enunciate, his delivery became increasingly wearing. Wells certainly captured the energy of Coriolanus the battle hero, but some of the character’s complexities were lost. It was difficult to understand why such a bouncy, gregarious Coriolanus would be so distrusted by his people.

Writhing, crouched over, rubbing their fingerless-gloved hands, Chloe France and Thea Hawlin really threw themselves into their roles as Brutus and Sicinius. The emphasis on their desire to bring about Coriolanus’ downfall was a fair interpretation. But I wasn’t quite sure why Brutus and Sicinius were channelling the Macbeth witches. While the costume – everyone in khaki camouflage – located us in the present day, Brutus and Sicinius’ witchiness dragged us firmly back to the Shakespeare canon. The interpretation was fresh and the actors dedicated. But I wasn’t convinced it suited the play.

But, thankfully, we had Juliet Cameron-Wilson as Volumnia.  Hers was by far the strongest performance. Elated, disdaining, distraught – Cameron-Wilson brought a manic intensity to the role whatever Volumnia’s mood. From her first, overexcited fantasy about Coriolanus’ battle triumphed about Coriolanus’ battle triumphs, Volunmnia was convincingly deranged throughout. It was an extreme performance – in her first great speech, she was smeared in juice from the orange she was absent-mindedly eating – but an apt one.

The supporting cast showed promise. As a very weepy and timid Virgilia, Georgia Wagstaff had some excellent moments. Her appeal to Coriolanus – ‘my lord and husband…’ – was particularly touching. Kim Jarvis as Menenius also deserves credit for an engaging performance, and while I felt the relationship between Coriolanus and Aufidius lacked intensity – it felt more like healthy rivalry than dangerous obsession – Adam Kirton gave a thoughtful performance as Aufidius. His hushed, hoarse delivery was refreshing, and his performance improved as the evening went on.

There were a few first-night symptoms (made painfully obvious at one point when one of the actors clicked their fingers to try to trigger their memory) and I was disappointed that when Coriolanus took off his ‘wolvish togue’ (leather jacket) to show his ‘unaching scars’, there weren’t any to show. This aside, the technical side of things was impressive: the guitar accompaniment was a very nice touch, and my initial anxiety about having everyone onstage was unfounded. It only added to the immediacy.

This progressed from shaky start to strong finish, and there was a star performance from Cameron-Wilson. I just didn’t feel it quite did the power of the play justice.