Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(13user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Hiddleston (Coriolanus)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Hiddleston (Coriolanus)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Hiddleston (Coriolanus)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Hiddleston (Coriolanus)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Hiddleston (Coriolanus)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Hiddleston (Coriolanus)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonThe cast of 'Coriolanus'

Tom Hiddleston would probably accept the removal of a zero or two from his next ‘Avengers’ paycheque if it meant no journalist mentioned the fact he went to Eton ever again. Nonetheless, his elite education is called intriguingly to mind in Josie Rourke’s stripped down, action-packed take on Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’. In the midst of all the blood, graffiti and pyro, Hiddleston plays the eponymous Roman general not as a hearty veteran, but a gifted young man, one whose martial honour and prefect-ish sense of fair play is fatally spiked by a complete incomprehension of the lower orders.

Rourke isn’t always subtle, but she maintains a powerful sense of moral ambiguity in between all the loud bangs. Indeed, it’s the souped-up combat sequences that first give us cause for concern about Hiddleston’s hero. When he first appears he cuts a dash as a tall, handsome general who storms the gates of an enemy city singlehanded. But his looks become marred, first by gore, then by the look of glee that crosses his face as cruelly, gratuitously throttles his nemesis Aufidius (Hadley Fraser) after besting him in robust single combat.

The suspicion that the world of powerful men is all that matters to Coriolanus is confirmed when he returns to Rome and manages to spectacularly alienate the entire plebiscite. In this he’s aided by Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger’s wonderfully slimy politicians, who seek his downfall for petty, slimy politician reasons. But the heroic Coriolanus’s total disinterest in the non-elites is made disturbingly obvious – when he begrudges the release of grain to hoodie-wearing civilians who haven’t ‘earned’ it, the spectre of our government's anti-welfare rhetoric looms disturbingly large.

A complex, compelling central performance, but the production has a very ensemble feel. Mark Gatiss is good as Coriolanus’s mentor Menenius, half pompous light relief, half sad, wise old man. Deborah Findlay is a scene stealer as Coriolanus’s histrionic, self-serving, but fundamentally sensible mum Volumnia. And fans of telly’s ‘Borgen’ will be delighted to spot Birgitte Hjort Sørensen in the mix as Coriolanus’s wife Virgilia – it’s a small part, but she plays it with an impressive intensity.

Though mostly exciting, Rourke’s robust direction leads to a few missteps – notably a spectacularly crass scene where Fraser’s Aufidius tries to snog Hiddleston for a cheap, lazy laugh. Really, though, it works, an intelligent look at the psychology of the elite, wrapped up in the sleek chassis of an action thriller.

By Andrzej Lukowski

The 300-seat Donmar may itself feel like a bastion of privilege, but you’ve got several options if you want to storm the walls of this sold out show: a fresh batch of tickets goes on sale every Monday at 10am, while day-seats are available from 10am at the box office. Failing that, the whole shebang is coming to a cinema near you on January 30: see for details.


Average User Rating

4.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:12
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:0
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1 person listening

Absolutely spectacular and amazing. The grand scale of the story in Donmar's intimate space is absolutely captivating. I was dazzled by the whole of the cast, every single one of them gives 100% of the focus, and minimalistic yet powerful use of the stage. This performance is something unforgettable.

I saw this at the Donmar last Saturday evening; by some stroke of luck I managed to get a single ticket from the ATG ticket office by phone. I've always preferred Shakespeare's Roman offerings to his Elizabethan & Jacobean plays, this probably being my favourite. Josie Rouke has done interesting things with this production; the staging IS modern, but it's not trying too hard to be cutting edge and if it were to be reprised in 10 years time, nothing would look dated. As a result, the emphasis is squarely on the acting. Hiddleston was very good, but perhaps a little too endearing, and I wonder if his frequent habit of making eye contact with the crowd undermined an otherwise suitably aloof/arrogant characterisation. However, it was Deborah Findlay's performance as Volumina, and the mother/son chemistry, that made the night for me. I found Birgitte Hjort Sørensen to be a little lacklustre - and though I appreciate their relationship is perhaps more reserved than Volumina & Coriolanus - the moments of affection between Virgilia & Coriolanus felt unconvincing and removed some of the weight from their scenes. Gatiss was good, but personally I didn't see much of a departure from his character as Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock; he delivers wisdom and dry wit well, but without ingenuity. Hadley Fraser gives a robust performance, but I agree with Time Out that the kiss is gratuitous - the homoerotic tension that underlies the relationship was just right without the smooch (but I'm not really complaining!). Levey and Schlesinger executed their roles well, representing agreeable principles and yet remaining rather unlikable themselves. Overall, I enjoyed it very much, though I am intrigued to see whether a repeat viewing via the NT Live screening changes my inital impressions.

Natalie Browne, I would love that ticket if it is still available (I bet not...) Got my plane and hotel for London (coming from Norway), but no ticket. I had it in my basket on the Barclays front row sale, but during payment something went wrong and I lost it. So disappointed as I was really hoping for the tickets...been reading the play in preparation as well. I can't really stand in line for hours for the on the day tickets either, because that would really not be fair to my boyfriend who I'm going to London with (and hardly see, since I live in Norway and he in England) I will give a fair price for it :)

If anyone wants a ticket I am selling one ticket for Saturday 8th Feb 2014 in the circle at 2:30pm. I unfortunately can bo longer go due to a family matter and just want the ticket to go to someone who will appreciate the show. I wont charge a stupid price either. Let me know!

So devastated I won't make the live performance but it's so great they're broadcasting it to cinemas.. already got my tickets! :D

Saw the opening performance on 06 December-absolutely breathtaking , never seen anything like it. The best Shakespeare is seen live when you really "get" what he wanted to tell. And this performance is visceral and amazing! Make sure you can see it al least via NT Live...

I also tried to get tickets for this play the day they came out as a present for my boyfriend, but was also unlucky. Does anyone know if the barclays tickets will be running into january?

I have no doubt this will be excellent but it sold out in 20 minutes - I was incredibly lucky to get tickets. They won't be adding any dates as they have to make room for the following production. Anyone who wants to go and doesn't currently have tickets has two options: - Book to see it through NTLive, which is broadcasting it on 30th January 2014. - Try your hand at the Barclays Front Row seats for £10. Yes, that's right - the best seats are still available and are also the cheapest, but they will go like lightning. Tickets for Front Row seats for the following 2 weeks of performances go on sale at 10am online every Monday morning. So the first lot will go on sale around early December.

I gave my friend my money to book my ticket (as I was heading abroad for a bit) back in June, and she never bothered to book them until this week. When, of course, they've been sold out for ages. I'm so disappointed. Does anyone know if they'll possibly be adding dates?